Your Mother May Outlive You
May 7, 2012 by Dian Cai
If American women believe that they are destined to outlive their male counterparts, they may need to think again.
Right now, life expectancy in the United States is 81.3 for women and 76.2 for men. But new data released on April 19, shows that men are now outpacing women in lifespan gains. Even more surprising is the finding that U.S. women are living shorter lives today than they did two decades ago.
“It’s tragic to see this trend in a country with all the medical expertise we have,” Dr. Ali Mokdad told reporters gathered in Atlanta for the Association of Health Care Journalists conference. “How can I say to mothers in the United States, ‘You know what? You are going to live longer than your daughter,’.”
Mokdad leads the county performance research team at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), an independent group based in Seattle. The institute’s analysis of life expectancy in every U.S. county is part of their effort to provide policymakers with an up-to-date assessment of disparities in life expectancy, especially at a time when health care and health reform are such hot topics, said William Heisel, IHME’s Assistant Director for External Relations.
“You won’t know whether health policies are making a difference or whether health reforms are working if you don’t have a benchmark for measuring people’s overall health status, and life expectancy is one important component of that,” said Heisel.
Based on the analysis of CDC’s mortality data by sex, race and county from 1989 to 2009, the report showed that average life expectancy for men improved by 4.6 years across the country while women gained only 2.7 years.
More surprisingly, in 661 U.S. counties, life expectancy stopped dead or went backwards for women since 1999, while gains for men ceased or reversed in only 166 counties. This trend was obvious in more than 84 percent of Oklahoma counties, 58 percent of Tennessee counties and 30 percent of counties in Georgia.
During the same 20-year period, the life expectancy gap between black and white Americans narrowed. Although white men still outlive blacks, life expectancy for black American men improved by 7.4 years, compared to 4.2 years for white men. Among women, life expectancy in 2009 is 77.9 years for blacks while white women can expect to live 81.5 years on average.
Mokdad said that preventable causes of death, not incurable diseases, drive racial and geographic health disparities. “I can tell you that where we have seen stagnation or falling behind in life expectancy, we are seeing a lack of progress in addressing the main preventable causes of death that cut lives short,” said Mokdad, “including tobacco, alcohol, obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.”
In a comparison of how countries diagnose and manage diabetes, IHME found that a larger percentage of women than men were being inadequately treated for high blood pressure or high cholesterol.
In some cases, the researchers calculated that simple changes could have major effects: they estimate that around 54,000 women’s lives could be saved by reducing salt consumption across the board.