Widening Gap in U.S. Life Expectancy

Francis Collins:

Researchers attribute this disturbing gap to a variety of social and economic influences, as well as differences in modifiable behavioral and lifestyle factors, such as obesity, inactivity, and tobacco use. The findings serve as a sobering reminder that, despite the considerable progress made possible by biomedical science, more research is needed to figure out better ways of addressing health disparities and improving life expectancy for all Americans.

In the new study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, a research team, partially funded by NIH, found that the average American baby born in 2014 can expect to live to about age 79 [1]. That’s up from a national average of about 73 in 1980 and around 68 in 1950. However, babies born in 2014 in remote Oglala Lakota County, SD, home to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, can expect to live only about 66 years. That’s in stark contrast to a child born about 400 miles away in Summit County, CO, where life expectancy at birth now exceeds age 86.

Earlier studies suggested that Americans living in some parts of the country were living more than a decade longer than others [2]. In the new study, a team led by Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, Seattle, wanted to get a closer look at those disparities. To fill in as much geographical detail as possible, they mapped life expectancies county by county—the smallest unit for which death records are routinely available—from 1980 to 2014.