Do you live in a red or a blue state?
You might not think it matters. (At least, not as far as your health is concerned.) Well, think again. Because according to new research, the answer to this question affects your health—and in turn, your life expectancy—in a very real way.
At least, that’s the takeaway of the Global Burden of Disease 2016 study. This analysis looked at more than 300 diseases and more than 80 risk factors. Its focus was on calculating trends in overall health and life expectancy.
It shouldn’t surprise you that death rates in the U.S. have dropped overall. (From 745.2 people per 100,000 in 1990 to 578 people per 100,000 in 2016, to be exact.)
It also probably won’t surprise you that causes of death have shifted noticeably. (Heart disease and lung cancer still lead the pack — but Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, suicide, and opioid use have all picked up significant steam since 1990.)
But allow me to direct your attention to some of the more useful parts of this study. For example — the six risk factors that researchers found responsible for the lion’s share of disability in this country:
- Cigarette smoking
- Drug and alcohol use
- High blood pressure
- High blood sugar
- High BMI
- Poor diet
In 2016, tobacco was the top risk factor in 32 states — followed by high BMI in ten states, and drug and alcohol use in eight states.
Overall life expectancy varied from state to state. Hawaii ranked the highest, at 81.3 years. Mississippi, meanwhile, ranked the lowest, at 74.7 years. On the other hand, healthy life expectancy — or disability-free years of life — was highest in Minnesota, at 70.3 years. And lowest in West Virginia, at 63.8 years.
In the 25 years between 1990 and 2016, risk of death among younger adults (between 20 and 55 years old) dropped in 31 states, as well as Washington D.C. But it also shot up dramatically — by more than 10 percent — in five states: Kentucky, Oklahoma, New Mexico, West Virginia, and Wyoming — most of which are deep red.
Researchers also identified West Virginia as having the highest probability of death among this age group — followed by Mississippi and Alabama.
However, New York, California, and Minnesota — all blue — reported the lowest death risk in this age group.
And seeing as how trends are just as important as the numbers themselves, it’s also worth noting that risk of death overall dropped the most in New York and California — and increased the most in West Virginia and Oklahoma.
Declines were at least partly due to reductions in HIV/AIDS across the map — as well as declines in auto injuries and cancer. Increases, meanwhile, were mostly due to drugs, alcohol, and chronic kidney disease — one of the main complications of diabetes.
Whatever the explanation, I think it’s safe to say that one thing is crystal clear — the United States is dropping the ball when it comes to disease prevention. And certain populations in particular are bearing the brunt of this neglect.
I won’t get into the possible reasons behind the clear and shocking discrepancies in health and disability that this latest study revealed, or else we’d be here all day. That’s a complicated discussion that would take far more time and space… perhaps I’ll cover this in a newsletter sometime soon.
Nonetheless, it’s a true tragedy that Americans of any political affiliation are dying from perfectly preventable causes in this day and age. As I always say, our nation’s focus should be on preserving health, not just treating disease.
During a time of seemingly endless political division and strife, this should be one goal that we all agree on, whatever your voting record might be.
If you’d like to learn more about common-sense strategies for staying vibrant, youthful, and healthy well into your golden years, check out my monthly newsletter, Logical Health Alternatives.