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New Study Shows Widening Longevity Gap in Local Communities

A new comprehensive study shows that the gap in life expectancies between rich and poor widened from 2001 to 2014.

Published online April 10 by JAMA, the study examined the extent to which gaps in longevity vary at the local level, yielding important insights for AAAs. The study's findings indicate that targeted health promotion activities in certain localities could make a difference in longevity. 

According to the report, which was covered widely by Post and local news organizations, the top 1 percent in income among American men live 15 years longer than the poorest 1 percent; for women, the gap is 10 years.  

The findings additionally show a disturbing trend in longevity patterns across the country, indicating that where you live may have a strong influence on how long you live. 

Life expectancy varied greatly across areas within the United States, especially for low-income individuals. Adjusting for race and ethnicity, life expectancy for individuals with low incomes is lowest in Nevada, Indiana and Oklahoma, and highest in California, New York and Vermont. While social-economic status has long been a predictor of longevity, this study found that the poor do better in certain localities than others. The strongest pattern in the data was that low-income individuals tend to live longer (and have more healthful behaviors) in cities with highly educated populations and high levels of government expenditures, such as San Francisco and New York City. A poor person living in San Francisco can expect to live about three years longer than someone making the same income in Detroit. 

Perhaps even more surprising, the findings do not support theories that health and longevity are related to differences in medical care, local environmental factors, inequality, or local labor market conditions. Rather, the study's authors attribute increased longevity to differences in health behaviors, including smoking, obesity, and exercise. The findings suggest that targeting health promotion activities to communities with lower life expectancies (such as Las Vegas, Tulsa and Tampa) could help bridge the longevity gap.

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