NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


April 24, 2008

There is a steady increase in "mortality inequality" -- a term for a widening gap in life expectancy -- between the richest and poorest counties in the United States from 1983 to 1999, according to a study released by researchers at Harvard University and the University of Washington.

To judge from the cause-of-death data cited in the Harvard-Washington study, the main driver of mortality inequality in the '80s and '90s was the rise in diseases springing from personal behavior, says IBD:

  • Deaths from smoking-related diseases -- lung cancer and congestive heart failure (an effect of diminished lung capacity) -- rose among the poor, especially for women.
  • So did deaths from chronic diseases (such as diabetes) related to obesity.

A bright side to this otherwise grim news is that the diseases most to blame for the widening longevity gap are often preventable or treatable, according to Christopher Murray, an author of the study.

Smoking- and obesity-related diseases, of course, are preventable by personal choices, aided by education and encouragement.  You don't need access to high-cost doctors and hospitals to quit smoking, get more exercise and eat less.  Insurance is important, but it doesn't give you a healthy lifestyle, says IBD.

Source: Editorial, "Uncovered Story," Investor's Business Daily, April 23, 2008.


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