My husband and I live in one of the states that has the highest life expectancy in America. How do I know this? I read an article in The Wall Street Journal by Talal Ansari that asks, “Where are people living the longest? See where your state ranks in life expectancy.”
When you read it, keep in mind that life expectancy in America has declined for three years straight years overall. Why? A study from the Center on Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University suggests the drop is being driven by higher rates of death among middle-aged Americans.
The Green Coasts
It cheered me to see that Massachusetts is colored deep green, for a life expectancy of 79 to 80.7. That comes in well above the national average of 77 years. I intend to beat that number, of course. Don’t we all?
Hawaii ranks at the top of the map with 80.7 while Mississippi has the lowest at 71.9. Other “green states” are New Hampshire, California, Washington, and Minnesota.
With the exceptions of Hawaii and Minnesota. all the green, high-life-expectancy states stretch along the coasts, while the middle of America comes in pale green (77 to 78.9) and tan (75 to 76.9).
A Nearly Solid Yellow South
On the other hand, the Deep South appears as almost solid yellow, for a life expectancy of 71.9 to 74.9. Interestingly, this part of the country also has:
- The highest rates of obesity
- The unhealthiest populations
- The worst states for education
- The lowest rates of Covid vaccinations per 100 people
- The highest maternal mortality rates
Could these things be connected? (Sarcasm alert) Might education lead to better decisions about diet and exercise? Could getting vaccinated against a highly communicable virus keep you alive? Can we imagine that better healthcare would save more new mothers?
A Drought of Candidates
Now consider this: the south is where the U.S. Armed Forces recruit most of their members. Only now they have recruitment problems. Every branch of the U.S. military is struggling to meet its 2022 recruiting goals. Add drug use, criminal records, and a general unwillingness to serve and you can see a problem developing.
Can the military keep up to strength if its recruiting strategy focuses on a part of the country where people get fat and die young? (Don’t bother commenting on how I’m fat-shaming people. I stand with Bill Maher on that issue.)
Bill Maher on “Body Positivity”
(Watch if you dare)
Physical Fitness and Life Expectancy
I’m old enough to remember when President Dwight D. Eisenhower created the first “Council on Youth Fitness” in 1956. Pres. Eisenhower felt compelled to create this national initiative after he read the results of a study comparing American children unfavorably with a group of European youth across measures of physical fitness. In 1960, President John F. Kennedy changed the name to “The President’s Council on Physical Fitness” and promoted it further.
What you might not know was that back then, Americans of all ages were thinner and fitter than they are now. Kids like my siblings and I got a lot more physical activity, much of it outdoors, than kids do today. We didn’t have screens to look at instead of doing things and snack food options were severely limited. Young men answered their draft calls and went to boot camp, where they ran with ruck sacks.
We could use another presidential initiative today. Only I fear it would get caught up in arguments about food choices, whether sugar is worse than fat, and how much exercise constitutes enough.
Did you ever watch the animated film Wall-e? Fifties kids were the original occupants of the big space ship. Today’s young people look more like the indolent passengers several generations later.
All of that leaves us with a country where life expectancy has been declining instead of growing. The science-fiction novels I read as a kid about humans in far-off 2022 achieving immortality have proven way off the mark. Instead, life expectancy has gone in the other direction.
But, if you do want to live forever, I urge you to take a look at the map above. Stop drinking soda and eating chips. Stop smoking. Get up and take a walk. Go to the doctor for a checkup.
Then pick the coast you like and move to one of the green states.