Saturday, April 26, 2008

Healthy vs Unhealthy Lives

Most are living longer but in some regions of the country folks are dying sooner. This is an opportunity for ministry.

Study Highlights Regional Declines in Life Expectancy
Apr 22, 2008

A study published Monday in PLoS Medicine indicates that, although overall average life expectancy in the United States increased by more than seven years for men and six years for women between 1960 and 2000, the life expectancy for many underserved Americans has declined or remained static, the New York Times reports.

To analyze long-term mortality trends, researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health and the University of Washington reviewed mortality data from the National Center for Health Statistics and population data from the U.S. Census Bureau collected between 1959 and 2001. They found that 4 percent of males and 19 percent of females experienced a decline or stagnation in life expectancy beginning in the 1980s, with the most significant downward trends concentrated in Appalachia, the Southeast, Texas, the southern Midwest and along the Mississippi River.

Specifically, the disparity in life expectancy between men in counties with the longest life expectancies and men in counties with the shortest life expectancies grew from nine years in 1983 to 11 years in 1999. The disparity in life expectancy between women in counties with the highest and lowest life expectancies, meanwhile, increased from 6.7 years to 7.5 years across the same period.

Using disease-specific mortality data, researchers determined that the stagnation or drops in life expectancy stemmed largely from an increase in diabetes, cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, as well as a lack of improvement in cardiovascular mortality. Noting that those conditions are closely related to smoking, high blood pressure and obesity, all of which can be controlled "through both personal and population strategies," the study's lead author says that "there is good evidence on relatively low-cost and effective ways of dealing with these issues if one of the health system's imperatives becomes to close this widening life expectancy gap."

Acknowledging, meanwhile, that the "life expectancy decline is something that has traditionally been considered a sign that the health and social systems have failed," the director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, who also co-authored the report, suggests that the findings "should be a sign that the U.S. health system needs serious rethinking."

(Bakalar, New York Times, 4/22/08 [registration required]; Harvard release, 4/21/08; Ezzati et al., PLoS Medicine, 4/22/08)

My comments: These diseases and early deaths are related to overeating, drinking, smoking and other lifestyle choices. They are not related to failure sin the delivery of health care.

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