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June 16, 2011

Places to Live Longer : Extra Cheesecake and Life Expectancy

Pittsburgh often places very well on lists of "places to live", but how do we rank in terms of "places to live longer?" Because sure, if it's all the same it's great here, but if I'll live five years longers in (groan) Cleveland - well, that's something to think about. I mean, five more years of playing with the grandchildren...

So you're at an expensive restaurant known for customer service. Appetizers are great, dinner is great, and the desert - cheesecake - is heavenly. The waiter comes by and asks, Anything else I can do for you? You're caught up in the satiety and say, Why yes, actually, I'd like a bit more of the cheesecake, while your companions smile at your impetuosity. The waiter smiles and returns to give you a small bit of extra cheesecake, about a half of a slice more.

You're about to exclaim to your companions Wow this is great! when you notice a Scandinavian couple at the next table, pursuing the same scenario. The customer asks for a bit more cheesecake, and the staff brings him another full-size slice of cheesecake. Now you're feeling, I would have liked that.

As you're waiting for the bill you notice a Japanese couple across the room; same bit, customer asks for a little additional cheesecake. Waiter smiles and brings back two full-sized slices of cheesecake. Domo arigato, and now you're left with mixed feelings about your incremental bit of extra cheesecake.

Which brings us to the news from the Health Metrics and Evaluation Institute (HMEI). They've compared life expectancy in 1987 and in 2007 on a county-by-county level, and then separate them out by gender and race.

Their study reports that life expectancy increased 4.3 years for men and 2.4 years for women between 1987 and 2007.

There are significant regional differences in life expectancy, Change in life expectancy is so uneven that within some states there is now a decade difference between the counties with the longest lives and those with the shortest. States such as Arizona, Florida, Virginia, and Georgia have seen counties leap forward more than five years from 1987 to 2007 while nearby counties stagnate or even lose years of life expectancy. In Arizona, Yuma County’s average life expectancy for men increased 8.5 years, nearly twice the national average, while neighboring La Paz County lost a full year of life expectancy, the steepest drop nationwide.

Our life expectancy increases are not as significant as the benefits seen in other countries. To follow up on the original metaphor, people in the United States got a little more cheesecake, and people in leading-edge countries got a lot more cheesecake.

The HMEI makes their dataset available for download, it's an interesting set of numbers. The local data follows:

Life Expectancy (Years), 1987 and 2007, by County/Gender
CountyLE Men 1987LE Women 1987LE Men 2007LE Women 2007
Fairfax County, VA75.480.181.883.8


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