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Published July 20, 2013, 11:25 PM

Healthy life expectancy gap for men greatest in ND, SD

Study highlights need to strive for healthier lifestyles, public health experts say
FARGO – The gap between the healthy life expectancy of men and women is greater in North Dakota and South Dakota than all other states.

By: Patrick Springer, INFORUM

FARGO – The gap between the healthy life expectancy of men and women is greater in North Dakota and South Dakota than all other states.

The finding is contained in a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calculating life expectancy and healthy life expectancy, a measure of quality of life, for all states.

Women have longer life expectancies than men in just about every state, including North Dakota and Minnesota.

Meanwhile, Minnesota ranks second to Vermont in the percentage of those, male and female of all races, whose remaining years at age 65 are calculated to be healthy.

That percentage in Minnesota is 77.5, compared to 73.5 percent in North Dakota and the average of 72.7 for all states.

Applying the average for all states as an example, a 65-year-old has a life expectancy of living another 19.1 years, but only 13.9 of those years, or 72.7 percent, will be considered healthy years, based on statistical probabilities.

Healthy life expectancy accounts for both quantity and quality of life and is used as a barometer of the health status of population groups.

The new study that highlighting the significant spread between life expectancy and healthy life expectancy drives home the importance of people – especially men – striving for healthier lifestyles, public health officials said Friday.

“Although we may be living longer, we may be doing so in a less healthy way is something to keep in mind,” said Karen Ehrens, the Healthy North Dakota coordinator.

The shortfall in healthy life expectancy reflects the toll from chronic diseases, including obesity and high-blood pressure, which are showing up at earlier ages, public health officials said.

Because of the earlier onset of obesity and other chronic conditions, health officials worry the upcoming generation could be the first to show a decline in life expectancy, which has grown over time.

“Hopefully we haven’t peaked,” Ehrens said. “We may have peaked in our average life expectancy unless we create an environment that makes it easier for people to make healthy choices.”

The three primary steps to extend healthy life expectancy are to adopt healthy eating habits, remain physically active and avoid tobacco use, said Gina Nolte, director of health promotion for Clay County Public Health.

Unfortunately, she said, the general population’s health habits have declined over the past three decades, causing higher rates of chronic disease, a major driver of escalating health care costs.

“We’re not walking and biking as much,” she said. “We’re not even having as much physical activity at school. Our jobs are more sedentary and we have all these conveniences.”

Men have shorter life expectancies because their health behaviors are more risky than women’s, Ehrens said.

“Men have significantly higher rates of binge drinking, higher rates of smoking, are less likely to eat enough fruits and vegetables, are far more likely to be overweight and more likely to be obese,” she said.

For instance, 31.3 percent of North Dakota men have indulged in binge drinking, having five or more drinks on one occasion. The binge drinking rate is 16.5 percent for women, defined as having four or more drinks in a sitting, according to survey data from the CDC.

Almost a quarter of North Dakota men use tobacco, 24.2 percent, compared to 19.5 percent of women. And 17.3 percent of men, compared to 27.6 percent of women, ate the recommended five servings of fruit and vegetables daily, according to the survey.

“This is good information for us to evaluate our target audiences,” Ehrens said. “Maybe we do have to start directing more of our messages to males.”

Although Minnesota ranks high in life expectancy and healthy life expectancy, the study found a huge disparity between whites and blacks.

For statistical reasons, comparisons were not made for American Indians and other minority groups, but Nolte and Ehrens said other studies show significant inequities between whites and minorities across many health indicators.

In Minnesota, both whites and blacks have a life expectancy at age 65 of living another 20.2 years. But the healthy life expectancy is much lower for blacks, 11.5 years, compared to 15.6 years for whites, according to the study.

Poverty and the problems that go with it, including access to health care, healthy food and transportation, is a key factor in health disparities, Nolte said.

“Poverty has a lot to do with (not) being healthy,” she said. “We’re recognizing that more and more in public health.”

Comparisons between black and white were not made in North Dakota because of statistical sampling limitations.

Life expectancy vs. healthy life expectancy

Below are figures for average years remaining at age 65 comparing life expectancy (LE) in years and healthy life expectancy (HLE) in years for all races, both sexes, and the percentage (%) of remaining years calculated as healthy:

Minnesota: LE, 20.1; HLE, 15.6; 77.5%.

North Dakota: LE, 19.9; HLE, 14.6; 73.5%.

South Dakota: LE, 19.8; HLE, 15; 75.6%.

All states avg.: LE, 19.1; HLE 13.9; 72.7%

Mississippi: LE, 17.5; HLE, 10.8; 61.5% (lowest % rank)

Vermont: LE 19.4; HLE, 15.2; 78.2 (highest % rank)

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


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Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522

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