Location May Affect Lifespan of Those Who Are Poor

New Research Tries to Find Why Poor People Live Longer in Certain Areas

For poor Americans, the place they call home can be a matter of life or death, according to an article by the Tampa Bay Times. Poor individuals in some cities—large ones like New York and Los Angeles, as well as quite a few smaller ones like Birmingham, Alabama—live nearly as long as their middle-class neighbors or have seen rising life expectancy in the 21st century. But in some other parts of the country, adults with the lowest incomes die on average as young as people in much poorer nations like Rwanda, and their lifespans are getting shorter.

According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the gap in lifespans between rich and poor people widened from 2001 to 2014. 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. But the fact that some places have increased the lifespan of their poorest residents suggests that improving public health does not require first fixing the broader problem of income inequality. Small-scale, local policies to help poor people adopt and maintain healthier habits may succeed in extending their lives, regardless of what happens with trends in income inequality.

The research is the most detailed analysis to date of a pattern first identified at least a couple of centuries ago, that more money translates into a longer life. It could be as simple as this: Wealth buys higher-quality medical care, which allows people to live into old age. But a long line of evidence suggests it is less obvious than it might seem. The affluent seem to live in healthier ways. They exercise more, smoke less, feel less stress, and are less likely to be obese. The new study, in fact, finds little correlation between a region's Medicare spending rate or the proportion of the population with health insurance and how long its poor citizens live. But public health experts who examined the results said the weak relationship did not mean that good health care had no value.

There was a much stronger relationship between longevity and obesity and smoking rates, which is unsurprising. Places where poor citizens had long lifespans also tended to have a high concentration of college graduates and high local government spending. Life expectancy for those who are poor is lowest in a large swath that cuts through the middle of the country, and it appears in pockets in the rest of the country. 



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