KURTIS GARBUTT / CREATIVE COMMONS 2.0
A nationwide JAMA Internal Medicine study
published May 8, which compared death statistics across the U.S. by county, reveals good news for residents of the greater New Orleans area — little by little, life expectancies are on the rise.
One of the most dramatic changes occurred in Orleans Parish, where life expectancy for men rose by almost eight years between 1994 and 2014, the most recent year researchers studied. In 1994, life expectancy for men in the parish was just 65 years. In 2014, that figure had risen to 72 years. (For the sake of readability, these figures are rounded to whole numbers; the specific stats are available on this interactive map
Looking at the researchers' data from six parishes surrounding New Orleans — including Orleans, Jefferson, St. Tammany, St. Bernard, Washington and Tangipahoa parishes — all six fall short of the national average life expectancy of 79 years. St. Tammany Parish had the highest life expectancy of 78 years, and women in both St. Tammany and Jefferson parishes have a life expectancy of 80 years, which is pretty close to the national average women's life expectancy of 81 years. Washington Parish had the lowest life expectancy, with a gap of almost seven years between the average life expectancy there (73 years) and the national average.
However, every parish in the region experienced growth in life expectancy, overall, in the period between 2004 and 2014. Public health observers should see this as a positive sign — as the JAMA
researchers noted, in some places across the U.S., life expectancy is falling
. They found a disparity of as much as 20 years in life expectancy across counties, attributed to a wide range of influences including socioeconomic, race/ethnicity, behavioral and health care factors.
In their report, the researchers urged policymakers to seek solutions that target behavioral and metabolic risk factors (like smoking cessation programs, or improved access to fresh food) to help address falling life expectancies nationwide, but acknowledged that economic relief programs also may play a part in expected life expectancy outcomes.
Earlier this year, a report out of Princeton University on this same topic was the subject of much chatter among media and public health professionals when it described increased death rates among middle-aged white Americans as "deaths of despair
" related to their poor economic prospects.