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Health Capsules: June 7

By: Lisa Russell

U.S. life expectancy statistics vary widely by area

Babies born today in the U.S. may have shorter expected lifespans than their parents did decades ago, depending on where they live. A new study comparing mortality data by county from 1980 and 2014 found that the gap between counties with the highest and lowest life expectancies has widened significantly over that period, by more than 20 years in some areas.

Oglala Lakota County, South Dakota, had the lowest life expectancy in America in 2014 at 66.8 years, while Summit County, Colorado, had the highest at 86.8 years. For the U.S. as a whole, life expectancy has increased by about five years since 1980, from 74.07 to 79.08 years.

Missourians’ life expectancy increased by exactly four years over the 35-year period, from 73.73 to 77.73, while St. Louis County residents in 2014 had a higher-than-average 79.49-year expected lifespan, compared to 75 years in 1981. Although much of the U.S. saw increases in life expectancy since 1980, areas of Kentucky, West Virginia, Alabama and several states located along the Mississippi River had a lower life expectancy in 2014 than 30 years earlier.

Researchers at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation [IHME], located at the University of Washington in Seattle, conducted the comparison study. They also examined the risk of dying among five age groups, as well as the extent to which health risk factors, socioeconomics and race, and healthcare access contributed to the growing inequality in expected lifespan by area.

“Looking at life expectancy on a national level masks the massive differences that exist at the local level, especially in a country as diverse as the United States,” said lead author Laura Dwyer-Lindgren, a researcher at IHME. “Risk factors like obesity, lack of exercise, high blood pressure and smoking explain a large portion of the variation in lifespans, but so do socioeconomic factors like race, education, and income.”

The authors claimed that those health risks, and resulting illnesses like diabetes and heart disease, explained 74 percent of the variation in lifespans by county. They proposed that a combination of socioeconomic factors – poverty, income, education, unemployment, and race – were independently related to 60 percent of the inequality, and access to quality healthcare contributed to 27 percent.

The study was published in JAMA Internal Medicine. Life expectancy data for every U.S. county can be viewed online, using IHME’s Health Map interactive tool, by visiting https://vizhub.healthdata.org/subnational/usa.


For men only

Men of all ages are encouraged to live healthier during National Men’s Health Week.

Past research has shown that men are 25 percent less likely than women to have visited a doctor over the past year, and almost 40 percent more likely to skip recommended age-appropriate health screenings. During National Men’s Health Week, coming June 12-18, men of all ages are encouraged to make their health a priority. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has offered the following simple steps men can take to improve their overall health, and solve small problems before they become big ones.

  • Get enough sleep. Most adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep a night. Not getting enough has been linked with conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, depression and obesity.
  • Eliminate tobacco. Even for longtime smokers, quitting has many benefits, including a reduced risk of cancer, heart disease and other life-threatening illnesses. Avoiding secondhand smoke is also a must, because it causes serious health problems as well – especially for babies and children, who should be kept away from smokers at all times.
  • Make time for exercise. All adults should get at least 2 ½ hours of moderate aerobic activity a week, and should do some type of strengthening activity on two or more days a week to exercise major muscle groups. Dividing exercise into smaller amounts of time during the day doesn’t diminish its benefits.
  • Eat a variety of healthy foods. Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables daily is important for their nutritional and disease-fighting benefits, along with lean protein and whole grains. Limit intake of foods and beverages that are high in calories, sugar, salt and fat. As far as alcohol is concerned, limit intake to no more than two drinks per day.
  • Keep stress in check. Everyday stress is unavoidable; however, excessive stress has been linked in studies to a higher risk of coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, depression and other serious problems.
  • Get regular checkups. Certain diseases and health conditions have no symptoms until they are serious, so visiting a doctor every year helps identify those issues before it’s too late. Know your important health numbers, including blood pressure, cholesterol level and body mass index. Between checkups, symptoms such as chest pain or shortness of breath should prompt an immediate medical visit.


‘Extreme’ binge-drinking becoming common among adults

Millions of American adults are binge-drinking at extremely high levels, a recent study found.

Almost 32 million American adults, or 13 percent of the population over age 18, have consumed more than double the number of drinks considered binge-level drinking at least once over a one-year period, according to a recent survey analysis. This “extreme” level of drinking is associated with increased health and safety risks, and is especially significant considering that more than 50,000 Americans die every year from injuries and overdoses associated with high blood alcohol levels. Compared to past surveys, the number of adults who binge-drink at an extreme level also appears to be rising. The study was conducted by researchers at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism [NIAAA], part of the National Institutes of Health.

Binge-drinking, defined as having four or more drinks on one occasion for women and five or more drinks on one occasion for men, often produces blood alcohol levels above 0.08 percent, the legal limit for driving in the U.S. However, the survey found that many adults drink far beyond that level, defined as extreme binge-drinking.

The NIAAA study analyzed three levels of past-year binge-drinking by sex. These levels were defined as four to seven drinks, eight to 11 drinks, and 12 or more drinks on a single occasion for women; and five to nine drinks, 10 to 14 drinks, and 15 or more drinks on one occasion for men.

After controlling for factors including age, race, sex, marital status, education, drug use and smoking, people who drank at the three extreme binge levels, compared to those who did not binge-drink, were far more likely to be injured or require an alcohol-related emergency department visit; have an alcohol use disorder; be arrested or have legal problems because of alcohol use; or be the driver in an alcohol-related traffic crash. For example, “level three” binge-drinkers were 93 times more likely than non-binge-drinkers to have an alcohol-related emergency room visit.

“As a society, we are justifiably concerned about extreme binge-drinking among underage individuals and college students. This study indicates that other groups in the U.S. population also engage in this harmful behavior and are at increased risk for adverse consequences,” said Ralph Hingson, Sc.D., director of the NIAAA Division of Epidemiology and Prevention Research. The study appeared in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

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