Our unhealthy American habits and lifestyles may finally be catching up with us, according to new findings from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluations (IHME). Among several categories of findings, the IHME’s nationwide study shows two startling stats: American women’s lifespans are improving at a much slower pace than men, and in many counties women are living shorter lives today than they did two decades ago.
Here in Seattle, a place healthier than most and where the findings’ lifespan discrepancy doesn’t show up, we may think we’re spared from sounding the health sirens. But researchers still wield cautionary tales with their startling evidence: In hundreds of counties across the nation, girls born in 2009 will wield shorter life expectancies than their mothers.
“King County has really moved up to be among the best life-expectancies in the country,” William Heisel, a spokesman for the institute, tells KPLU. “But why do some counties improve life-spans by more than a decade while others go backward? This is not where we should be.”
Not surprisingly, researchers say preventable factors provide the biggest cause for the new-found lifespan discrepancies: Tobacco and alcohol, high-cholesterol, high blood pressure and obesity.
The IHME study was done county by county across the nation. Findings for King County showed an increase in women’s life expectancies, of about three years to 83.2, from 1989 to 2009.
Several regions – some in the Midwest – were on the same level as places like Japan and France. Other regions – many located in the rural South -showed lifespans shorter than Egypt, Colombia and Indonesia, countries with governments that put far less toward public medical care.
“With the amount of money we spend on health care in this country, it really should not be this way,” Heisel tells KPLU.
More women than men, according to the study, have failed to properly treat their high blood pressure and cholesterol. Researchers found that gender also dictates how influential cutting down on a risk factor can be. They estimate that each year about 54,000 women’s lives could be saved just by reducing how much salt they eat.
By Katherine McKeon Twitter @kleemckeon