A new study that compared life expectancy by county from 1980 to 2014 has shed light on geographic disparities, which have been increasing over the past 35 years. One of the study’s major findings, as we report in an August news article, is that the difference in life expectancy between the U.S. county with the highest life expectancy and the one with the lowest is 20.1 years.
The counties with the lowest life expectancies include several in North Dakota and South Dakota (in particular, those with Native American communities), and counties along the lower half of the Mississippi River and in Kentucky and West Virginia. Meanwhile, counties in central Colorado have the highest life expectancies.
While national life expectancy increased from 73.8 years to 79.1 years during the study period, the researchers noted regional inequalities in this improvement: some counties in the South experienced little to no improvement in life expectancy, while others on both coasts and in Colorado and Alaska saw large increases. They also found that geographic differences in life expectancy decreased for children and adolescents but increased for adults—especially for those ages 65 to 85 years.
Possible explanations for the disparities, according to the authors, include socioeconomic/demographic factors, behavioral and metabolic risk factors, and factors relating to health care access, quality, and insurance.
See more news stories from our August issue, which are free to access: