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People in many developing countries live longer than poor in U.S.

Written by Diane Archer

New research published in the November 17, 2016 American Journal of Public Health confirms that poor people in the U.S. die sooner and are otherwise less healthy than people with higher incomes. Indeed, people in many developing countries live longer than poor people in the U.S., and wealthy Americans typically live seven to ten years longer than poor Americans. The study also finds that to improve health we need to address economic inequality.

Researchers refashioned the U.S. into “states” based on income and analyzed both the least wealthy areas in the U.S. and the most wealthy areas. They “redefined America, not by geography or race, but by socioeconomic status”– to conduct their research. In the most wealthy areas, the median household income is about three and a half times greater than in the least wealthy areas, $89.723 as compared to $24,960. The wealthiest areas have more than 25 times as many people as the poorest areas, about 362,000 as compared to about 14,000. About four and a half times as many non-Hispanic African Americans live in the poorest areas as in the wealthy areas.

People in the wealthiest areas live longer, with women living more than seven years longer–until 83–and men living almost ten years longer–until 79.3. In fact, in the poorest areas, life expectancy is lower than in half the countries in the world.

Adults who live in the poorest areas are twice as likely to smoke, 50 percent more likely to be obese and 69 percent more likely to be physically inactive. Adults in the wealthiest areas are more likely to have graduated from high school and far more likely to be employed.

Five states included both the poorest and the wealthiest areas: Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee and Texas. The poorest areas were located in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia. The wealthiest areas were located in Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Ohio, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Utah, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.

The researchers found that state data is less useful than local data for understanding public health. They argue that local interventions, rather than state interventions, are warranted to address socioeconomic disparities and the dangerous effects of poverty. That should help increase life expectancy for poor Americans.

That said, overall life expectancy in the U.S. is not increasing or even holding steady. The latest data from the National Center for Health Statistics show that overall life expectancy in the U.S. has declined by one-tenth of a year from 78.9 in 2014 to 78.8 in 2015.

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