Sunday, April 27, 2008

Is Life Expectancy Dropping for Many U.S. Women?

Most of us assume that, with advances in medicine and increasing awareness of the heath risks associated with poor diet and smoking, each generation of Americans will enjoy a longer life expectancy than the the generations that came before. Indeed, this has been the case throughout the 20th century. Yet, as the New York Times reports: research shows that those reassuring nationwide gains mask a darker and more complex reality. A pair of reports out this month affirm that the rising tide of American health is not lifting all boats, and that there are widening gaps in life expectancy based on the interwoven variables of income, race, sex, education and geography.
The most startling evidence came last week in a government-sponsored study by Harvard researchers who found that life expectancy actually declined in a substantial number of counties from 1983 to 1999, particularly for women. Most of the counties with declines are in the Deep South, along the Mississippi River, and in Appalachia, as well as in the southern Plains and Texas.
The researchers found statistically significant declines for women in 180 of the 3,141 counties in the United States and in 11 counties for men. In an additional 783 counties for women and 48 for men, there were declines that did not reach the threshold of statistical significance.
You can read more at PLoS Medicine, in two papers entitled The Reversal of Fortunes: Trends in Country Mortality and Cross-Country Mortality Disparities in the United States and Eight Americas: Investigating Mortality Disparities across Races, Counties, and Race-Counties in the United States.

UPDATE: Since I posted the above, this news has been picked up by Women's Bioethics Blog. Sue Trinidad rightly notes that, since this decline in life expectancy mainly affects poor women, this is not just a health concern, but a social justice issue as well.

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