This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Saturday, June 18, 2011

US Has Significant Spatial Inequalities in Life Expectancy

Christopher Murray and his colleagues at the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington have just published a study of life expectancy by county in the United States, covering the period from 1987 to 2007.  They found that, even as the general trend in life expectancy is up, there are wide swaths of the country in which life expectancy has not changed or has even dropped over time.

The region where life expectancy is lowest, and in some places declining, begins in West Virginia, runs through the southern Appalachian Mountains and west through the Deep South into North Texas. Places of high life expectancy are more scattered. In addition to Northern Virginia they include counties in Colorado, Minnesota, Utah, California, Washington state and Florida.
The study did not examine the causes of these disparities, but the Washington Post offered up a couple of possible explanations:
The rising rate of obesity and plateauing of the smoking cessation rate among women are two. Poorly controlled blood pressure and a shortage of primary-care physicians are two others.
However, even a quick glance at the very nice interactive map that accompany's the Post's story suggests that the lower levels of life expectancy are found in counties of the south with high proportions of African-Americans, and counties in the west and midwest with high proportions of Native Americans.
A final note in the article relates to the continuing issue of health care in the US:
What surprised Murray and his team was that despite increased consciousness about disparities and per capita spending on health care that is at least 50 percent higher than European countries, the United States is falling farther behind them with each passing year.
“My expectation was that in the last decade we would at least be keeping up in terms of the pace of progress. But that’s not what’s happening,” said Murray.

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