www.latimes.com 15th June 2011
After nearly a century of progress, life expectancy in the United States has encountered a slight setback. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington has released data showing that out of around 3,000 counties in the country, 737 have seen female life expectancy decline between the years 1997 to 2007. The last time such setbacks have been seen in the US was during the Spanish Influenza Epidemic in 1918. Nationwide, life expectancy is still on the rise but the gap between those areas with the highest average age of death and those with lowest is widening. The worst counties, found in Appalachia, the Deep South and the lower Midwest, had an average life expectancy that was lower than such countries as Syria, Panama, and Vietnam. The researchers who conducted the study blame a combination of obesity and smoking for the poor results. In regard to the former, the latest research found 34% of the US population were obese, compared to half that in 1980. Furthermore, the rate of counties with falling life expectancy is increasing. Between 1987 and 1997, only 227 counties saw dropping female life expectancy. Communities with large immigrant populations, such as southern California, fared a lot better than average despite low income levels. On a national level, life expectancy for women is 81.3 (as of 2007) placing the US 35th in the world rankings compiled by the UN (down from 20th in 1987). Average male life expectancy is 76.7, 24th in the world (up from 32nd).