Life Expectancy Differs Across State Lines

Life expectancy in southern states found to be lower than other states

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

A healthy lifestyle depends on more than just your behavior or your genes. It may also depend on where you live. A recent study found that life expectancy changes significantly from state to state.

This study found that 65-year-olds in the Southern states generally had fewer healthy years left than those in other states. Hawaii had the best rating for healthy 65-year-olds, while Mississippi had the worst.

Diet, exercise, smoking and access to adequate health care could be explanations for the variations.

This study was conducted to provide a snapshot of health across the United States. The report will be used to spot gaps in public health in different areas.

"Talk to your doctor about healthy lifestyle changes."

Man-Huei Chang, MPH, and colleagues from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other health organizations conducted this research, which aimed to find out the differences in health status of aging persons for each state. 

The researchers calculated the average life expectancies for 65-year-olds from each state using data from the National Vital Statistics System (NVSS), the US Census Bureau and self-reported data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS). The NVSS and census information provided official death rates, and the BRFSS provided survey information on health status in different states. The data was originally collected between 2007 and 2009.

A life expectancy is the number of years an individual can expect to live, based on the death rates of others in the population. A healthy life expectancy is the length of time an individual can expect to live in good health. This study analyzed both measures of life expectancy in order to account for enduring illnesses and disability.

The researchers analyzed the information from the three sources and broke the data down into life expectancies based on gender and race.

The study found that, on average, people living in southern states had a shorter healthy life expectancy than most other places in the US. Also, women had a longer healthy life expectancy than men in every state, from 0.7 to 3.1 years longer.

In most states, the healthy life expectancy for black persons was lower than that of white persons.

Although the researchers did not focus on what caused the differences in healthiness, they noted that many factors can have an effect on wellness. Certain areas may have less safe or less healthy environments than others. Additionally, people in some states may have less access to reliable health care when needed.

Clinical preventative services also may play an important part in determining health later in life. Cancer screenings, vaccines and blood pressure check-ups were cited as recommended preventative measures to maintain health in aging populations.

Lastly, states have different rates of healthy behaviors and lifestyles. A balanced diet, regular exercise and not smoking are important factors for staying healthy.

"Not only do people in certain states and African Americans live shorter lives, they also live a greater proportion of their last years in poor health," said CDC Director Tom Frieden. "It will be important moving forward to support prevention programs that make it easier for people to be healthy no matter where they live."

The CDC uses these reports to determine the various public health needs of different areas around the US to help shape programs to improve health.

This study was published online on July 19 in the CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report

The study was funded by the CDC. The authors disclosed no conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
July 19, 2013
Last Updated:
July 29, 2013