Lower Lifespans for Some Women
Most of us were taught as children that we would likely live to a ripe old age. After all, aren't lifespans steadily increasing? Unfortunately, those expectations are far from certain nowadays, at least for certain populations of American women.
New research, which took place at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, has found that female life expectancy in parts of the nation is actually lower than they were in previous years.1 The scientists calculated that this phenomenon is occurring in almost half of the counties of the United States, but it appears mainly concentrated in areas of the South and West that are mostly rural.
The researchers combed through 10 years' worth of information from federal death records provided by almost every single one of the 3,141 counties in the U.S. When they considered the mortality rates for women 75 years old and younger, they found that a dip exists in some locations. The deaths of those in this 75-and-under category are deemed premature since a large percentage of them are likely to be preventable.
Approximately 43 percent of U.S. counties showed evidence of declining lifespans for women. However, since these are mostly rural populations with far less residents than urban or even suburban areas, the percentage of declining American female life expectancy in that age group is actually much lower. Experts estimate that it is probably somewhere around 12 percent of all American women who are experiencing this decline. Nationwide, in fact, the number of premature deaths among women actually diminished slightly from 324 to 318 per 100,000. But in the 1,344 counties that bucked the overall trend, mortality in younger women increased from 317 to 333 per 100,000.
While the researchers could not explain exactly why this troubling trend in American life expectancy was taking place in certain parts of the country, there are a number of viable theories. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the highest rates of smoking among adults are found clustered in the South and Midwest.2 Smoking has been linked for decades to cardiovascular disease, various types of cancers, lung conditions, and more.3 The obesity rates in America are also much more significantly concentrated in the South and parts of the Midwest, and obesity is a contributing factor to numerous illnesses including stroke, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. 4 This is at least partially due in the South to diets high in fried foods that have earned the area the nickname: America's "stroke belt." Education levels may also be a factor in some cases, as women who do not graduate from high school often die prematurely. But education, in fact, may actually be related to smoking, though, since those with more education have a much lower incidence of being a smoker. The largest segment of the population without a high school diploma is from the South.5
It is not at all surprising that elevated rates of smoking and obesity have begun affecting the life expectancy of certain parts of the population. However, what is confounding is the fact that, according to the results of this study, it is only making a difference in the lifespan rates of the women in these counties. Men actually have a slightly lower life expectancy than women nationally, at an average lifespan of 76 years old versus the 81 that women enjoy. But the researchers discovered that, county by county, men have maintained their life expectancy, or even slightly improved it, almost everywhere, including the parts of the country that are proving troublesome for women. Perhaps this statistical anomaly is not the result of better health but is related to the fact that men were heavier smokers long before women and also led the curve on obesity, which means they were merely maintaining their bad habits recently, while women were catching up.
In any case, even if the men are lucky so far, great changes need to be made to turn these numbers around and point everyone back in the direction of health. First and foremost is quitting smoking. It is among the worst possible habits for your health. And yes, nicotine is addictive, but nowadays there truly is no excuse for not tossing your packs and saying enough is enough. There are many aids for quitting smoking, and society as a whole no longer supports it. Obesity, on the other hand, cannot be conquered cold turkey. That will take time and the willingness to make some alterations to your lifestyle. But even starting off small by cutting back on calories and nutrition-free junk food and beginning a basic daily exercise routine will make a difference more quickly than you might expect. Just look at Jared from the Subway commercials.6 And once you see how good you feel as you shed some extra pounds, it will provide motivation to do even more to take care of your health for good--even if you don't become wealthy like Jared did for losing that weight.
- 1. "Study shows declining life span for some U.S. women." Fox News. 5 March 2013. Accessed 14 March 2013. http://www.foxnews.com/health/2013/03/05/study-shows-declining-life-span-for-some-us-women
- 2. "Adult Cigarette Smoking in the United States: Current Estimate." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 14 March 2012. Accessed 15 March 2013. http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/adult_data/cig_smoking
- 3. "Harms of Smoking and Health Benefits of Quitting." National Cancer Institute. 12 January 2011. Accessed 15 March 2013. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Tobacco/cessation
- 4. "Overweight and Obesity." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 13 August 2012. Accessed 15 March 2013. http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/adult.html
- 5. "Educational Attainment in the United States: 2009." Census. February 2012. Accessed 15 March 2013. http://www.census.gov/prod/2012pubs/p20-566.pdf
- 6. Bruce Horovitz. "Jared and Subway: Who's the biggest winner?" USA TODAY February 23, 2013 (Accessed 15 Mar 2013.) http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2013/02/23/jared-fogle-subway-diet/1928793