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Average life expectancy is falling in many parts of the United States and for many demographic groups, most notably women, according to a study being published Wednesday in the journal Population Health Metrics, and conducted by the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington in Seattle.
As the Los Angeles Times wrote, “For life expectancy to decline in a developed nation is rare. Setbacks on this scale have not been seen in the U.S. since the Spanish influenza epidemic of 1918, according to demographers.”
In Mississippi, long the poorest and most unhealthy state, there are five counties where life expectancy for women is the same as that in Honduras, El Salvador and Peru, among the most impoverished countries in Latin America. Madison County, Mississippi, just north of Jackson, saw a staggering drop of two and a half years of life expectancy for women in just the past decade.
For one county in Mississippi, male life expectancy, for whites and blacks combined, was lower than the average male life expectancy in sub-Saharan Africa. For five Mississippi counties, male life expectancy was the equivalent of the Philippines and Brazil.
Another striking feature of the report was the scale of inequality in health outcomes. A relative handful of affluent suburban counties, mainly in the Northeast and West Coast, have life expectancies better than or equal to those in Japan and western Europe. But overall, some 80 percent of US counties were behind the average for the top 10 countries, and this proportion has increased dramatically over the last decade.
One part of the study looked at local variations in Britain and Canada, and found that the United States had much greater internal disparities. While 17 percent of US counties were 30 years or more behind the world’s best countries, only 2 percent of Canadian localities were that far behind—mostly among the Inuit population in the far north—and in Britain, with its National Health Service, only two tenths of 1 percent of local jurisdictions were more than 30 years behind.
There were some positive findings in the study:
*Despite high poverty rates, Southern California and other parts of the Southwest have relatively better life expectancy because the Hispanic immigrant population is much healthier than the US average.