A team of researchers has found that community characteristics may have associations with people’s life expectancy. The research, appearing in the journal Social Science & Medicine, suggests that authorities should consider taking these community characteristics, as well as other well-known predictors of life expectancy, into consideration when making policy.
Relative decline in life expectancy
According to the study, life expectancy in the United States had been increasing since the 1980s, as in many other parts of the world. However, in 2016, it began a 2-year decline — the first time this had happened since 1962–63. While, in absolute terms, U.S. experts predict life expectancy to grow during the next 40 years, they expect it to do so at a much slower rate than other countries.
If predictions are accurate, the U.S. will drop 21 spots in global life expectancy rankings from its current position of 43rd to 64th, meaning there will be a relative decline in life expectancy. In addition to this, life expectancy varies significantly from region to region in the US, ranging from 56 to 97 years. Understanding the factors for this relative decline in life expectancy, as well as the major variations across the country, is crucial for policymakers.
Life expectancy factors
Various individual health issues affect longevity, such as high levels of smoking, low levels of physical activity, and high levels of obesity. The research in the present study backed up these findings. Many other factors affect life expectancy, such as income inequality. These factors have complex relationships. For example, there are differences in mortality linked to gender; one study found that state-level factors may affect more women than men.
Dr. Elizabeth Dobis, a postdoctoral scholar at the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences, Pennsylvania, is the lead author of the study. She says, “American life expectancy recently declined for the first time in decades, and we wanted to explore the factors contributing to this decline. Because of regional variation in life expectancy, we knew community-level factors must matter. By analyzing place-based factors alongside personal factors, we were able to draw several conclusions about which community characteristics contribute most strongly to this variation in life expectancy.”