Massive New Life Expectancy Study Shows Where You Live Has Impact

A new study published by The Journal of the American Medical Association shows with impressive clarity that wealth and standard of living are related to longevity. One stark example: Men in the United States at the top one percent of income live 15 years longer than men at the bottom one percent.

That is no big surprise, however, as incomes have long been associated with life expectancy, and standards of living and education are markers for better health. But what is more startling from the research is that where you live, even within a state like Colorado, has an impact – particularly for those with less income.

The JAMA report is based on research that analyzed nearly 7 million deaths among individuals living in the U.S. during the 15 years between 1999 and 2014.

In some places, including big cities like New York and Los Angeles, those in the bottom 25 percent of income live as long as their middle class neighbors. But in other locations those at the same bottom 25 percent live no longer than people in some Third World countries, and their lifespans are getting shorter.

In an analysis of the JAMA study by The New York Times, the newspaper produced an interactive map which looked at varying life expectancy by locale for 40-year-olds with household incomes below $28,000.

In Colorado, the life expectancy ranged from highs of 83.4 years in Glenwood Springs and 82.2 years in Steamboat Springs – both rated as very high compared to the rest of the country – to a low of 77.5 years in Pueblo. Fort Collins at 81 years was above average, while the Denver metro area at 79.7 years and Colorado Springs at 80 were rated as about average with the rest of the country.

You can see and click interactively through the The Times map here. Not all locales are represented in the data.

Just as income and education lead generally to better health outcomes, certain behavioral traits including tobacco use, poor diet and lack of exercise are major contributors to early death. While the new data reinforces both sets of circumstances, identifying what needs to change to give better results for all is another interpretation being voiced about the study.

“There is a very strong correlation between income and life span,” Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in an interview. “But it is not inevitable. There are things we can do to change the life trajectory of people. What improves health in a community? It includes wide access to social, educational and economic opportunity.”


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