(Bloomberg News) A man in Fairfax County, Virginia, can expect to live 15 years longer than one in Holmes County, Mississippi, according to a study released today that illuminates health disparities across the U.S.
A woman in Collier County, Florida, has 12 years on a woman in Holmes, in the Mississippi Delta region of the southern state, said researchers at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington in Seattle. The study examined life expectancy in 3,147 U.S. counties through 2007.
Tobacco use, obesity and high blood pressure have dropped life expectancy in Appalachia, the Deep South and northern Texas, said Christopher Murray, the institute director and a report author. He called for more investment in public-health programs and increased emphasis on primary care so doctors can catch and control high blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
"Eighty-five percent of counties in the U.S. are not keeping up with what's possible for women, and 81 percent of counties in the U.S. are not keeping up for men," Murray said in a telephone interview. He defined "what's possible" as progress made in the top 10 countries, including Canada, Australia and Japan, in extending human lifespan.
"It's an achievable thing, to do better," Murray said. "The question is: what can we do to reorient our medical care system and public health to get better outcomes?"
While the U.S. spends more per capita on medical care than any other nation, it lags more than 30 others in life expectancy, said the report, which was done in collaboration with Imperial College London. More than $2.3 trillion was paid out for health care in 2008, or about $7,681 per resident, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a research group in Menlo Park, California.
Before the University of Washington report, the most recent available county data were from 1999, the researchers said.
"The first step for getting more effective primary care and public health programs is to get local ownership of the problem," Murray said. "People need to know they're not doing that well. It's easy to keep doing the same things if you don't have a benchmark."
In Holmes, Mississippi, men are expected to live to 65.9 years, and women, to 73.5, the study shows. That compares with 81.1 years for men in Fairfax, Virginia, near Washington, D.C., and 86 years for women in Collier, in the southwest part of Florida, the longest in the country.