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Worcester County Life Expectancy Not Keeping Up With State Gains

Thursday, April 26, 2012


 Worcester County residents have a longer life expectancy than they did 20 years ago, but the news is not all good.

While men in Worcester County gained 4.2 years in their life expectancy from 1989 to 2009, and women gained 2.3 years, both men and women have made smaller gains than most of the rest of the state.

Worcester County’s gains are also less than the national average, which were 4.6 for men and 2.7 for women.

Dukes and Middlesex counties claimed the top two spots in Mass, with men in Middlesex County living 79.3 years on average and women living 83.3 years. In Dukes County, women lived 84.2 years on average and men lived 79.2 years.

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) recently completed a county by county nationwide analysis of life expectancies and found the national life expectancy in 2009 was 76.2 for men and 81.3 for women. In Massachusetts, the 2009 life expectancy was 78.1 for men and 82.6 for women.

While every county in Massachusetts made progress that was not the case nationally.

Women in 661 counties and men in 166 counties saw their life expectancy remain unchanged or reversed from 1999 to 2009. These trends occurred most frequently in Oklahoma, Tennessee and Georgia.

Worcester Unhealthy

These numbers follow a University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute report, in which Worcester County was ranked near the bottom statewide in terms of overall health.

As GoLocalWorcester previously reported, Worcester County’s poor health conditions are driven by a higher than average number of smokers, overweight or obese residents and percentage of fast food restaurants.

Worcester County Statistics

In Worcester County, men lived on average of 77.1 years in 2009, and women lived 81.4 years.

Worcester County men are in the bottom third of the state in terms of life expectancy, and tied with Plymouth County for next to last in progress. Only Bristol County made smaller gains for men.

Women in Worcester County, while living longer than their male counterparts, also fared poorly when compared to their statewide peers, coming in ahead of only Hampden County in terms of life expectancy. Their 2.3 year gain was only ahead of Franklin County, where women only added 2.1 years to their life expectancy.

The IHME report calculated life expectancies by race, and found that the gap in life expectancy between blacks and whites was closing.

2009 data for black men indicates a life expectancy of 72.6 years, compared to 77.2 for white men. 2009 data for black women indicates a life expectancy of 78, compared to 75.6 in 1999, compared to 81.5 years for whites

William Heisel, Assistant Director for External Communications at IHME, said there were not enough black men in 1999 in the county, nor enough men and women in 1989 to be able to make an accurate estimate.

Determining Factors in Life Expectancy

IHME’s research shows that the biggest drivers of health disparities nationwide are preventable causes of death, including tobacco, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, and alcohol.

Christine Cassidy, Director of Communications for Fallon Community Health Plan, said the plan is committed to helping its members to get and stay healthy.

“One decision we made in 2005 was to eliminate copayments on all preventative visits and well child visits,” Cassidy said.

Beth Foley, Senior Director of Quality Programs, said the health plan has a number of different programs to help its members live longer, healthier lives.  

"Our Quit to Win program for tobacco cessation has a quit-rate of 30 percent," she said.  "The National Cancer Institute said that a 12 month quit-rate of 15 percent is considered good, and ours is double that."

The biggest issue is no longer education, but creating accessible, workable options.

"It's hard for people - they work long hours at sedentary jobs, and they may not be able to get out during the day for a walk," Foley said.  "Our role is help our members overcome the barriers to good health."

Next Steps

Heisel said that to improve life expectancies nationally, local attention must be paid.

“We would like to see intensive studies done at the county level, so that we can accurately define the risk profile,” he said.

Heisel also pointed out that New York City made some of the greatest strides in improving its life expectancies.

“They’ve done a lot to cut back on tobacco use by restricting smoking in public places, with better labeling in restaurants. There’s been a much better awareness of preventable risk, and with it, a huge increase in life expectancy and improved health outcomes.”


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