Over the past 50 years, life expectancy in the United States has increased and Americans are living longer than ever. However, just how long you live might come down to exactly where you live.
If you were born in 2014, a recent report suggests that your average life expectancy will be 79 years. This is up from an average of 73 years for people born in 1980. There is no disputing the fact that Americans are living longer. The data in this report also reveal that the national childhood mortality rate for those 5 and younger has dropped, which raises the average expectancy because all deaths are counted in the average. The gap between counties with the lowest and highest mortality have also narrowed. This is all good news.
However, not everyone is benefiting from this increase in life span in the United States. If you live in Oglala Dakota County, S.D., you can expect an average life span of just 66 years. Not only is that low, but it is below the 1950 life span average. This South Dakota location joins western Mississippi, parts of Alabama, other counties in North and South Dakota, eastern Kentucky and western West Virginia as the places of lowest life expectancy in the United States. Counties associated with Native American territories in North Dakota and South Dakota had the shortest predicted life spans.
If you live in central Colorado, you are expected to live the longest: an average of 86 years in the latest statistics. Specific counties in Alaska, New York, Florida and Virginia also reported long life spans. While where you live makes a difference, there is no geographic pattern in this diverse group of states that should convince you to move to a specific region.
So, what explains these differences in life span? Socioeconomic factors such as race, education and income play a major role. Access to health care also appears to be a significant factor. However, this study also emphasizes that three quarters of the factors that influence longevity can be classified as behavioral and metabolic. Leading this list are obesity, tobacco and alcohol use, drug addiction, regular exercise, high blood pressure and diabetes. If you were asked to guess the most important lifestyle factors, would any of these be a surprise?
The good news is that many of these are lifestyle choices that we have control over. Anyone can increase their life span by not smoking, exercising regularly, eating healthy foods, monitoring blood pressure and taking steps to prevent or control diabetes.
Biomedical science is bringing new understanding to disease and has produced some incredible new therapies that help people to stay healthy. These advances are likely to continue in the future. Remember, you have a lot of control over your health with your lifestyle decisions. You do not have to move to Summit County, Colo., to have a long life. With the right choices — and a little luck — you too can join the centenarian club and be announced on the “Today” show as a member of the Smucker’s group.