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Posted at 07:16 PM ET, 04/19/2012

Life expectancy varies widely in the Washington area

As it has for several decades, the Baltimore-Washington area continues to have a wide range in life expectancy, with Montgomery County in Maryland and Fairfax County in Virginia leading the longevity pack and Baltimore lagging far behind, according to a new analysis.

This region also reflects several national trends in life expectancy since the late 1980s--a smaller gain for women than men, bigger gains for blacks than for whites, and recent improvement in the longevity of city dwellers.

Life expectancy in the United States in 2009 was 76.2 years for males and 81.3 years for females. Between 1989 and 2009 it increased 4.6 years for men, but only 2.7 years for women.

Life expectancy in the District was 72.6 years for men and 79.6 for women in 2009. Montgomery County, Md., it was 81.4 years for men and 85 years for women. In Fairfax, it was just a tad lower--81.3 years for men and 84.1 years for women. In contrast, life expectancy in Sussex County in southern Virginia was about a decade less--70.5 years for men and 75.9 years for women.

For Baltimore, male life expectancy was 67.8 years and female life expectancy 76.5 years--the lowest in the region..

Although life expectancy is lower for black than for white Washingtonians, the gains for blacks have been greater. From 1989 to 2009 life expectancy rose 10.4 years for black men and 7.9 years for white men. It went up 6.1 years for black women and 4.2 years for white women, the analysis found.

The highest life expectancy in the nation was for females in Collier County, Fla., where it was 85.8 years in 2009. For men it was highest in Marin County, north of San Francisco, where it was 81.6 years. That was a decade-and-a-half longer (15.5 years, to be precise) than men in the Mississippi Delta county of Tunica.

The data was produced by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. Researchers last spring published findings for the two decades before 2007 that showed the same trends.

A troubling trend, noticed several years ago, was the stagnation of life expectancy for women in many parts of the country. The researchers broke the United States into roughly 3,100 cities and counties. In 661 of them life expectancy for women either fell or didn’t increase between 1999 and 2009. The increasing prevalence of obesity and diabetes, and a later peak of lung cancer deaths from smoking in women than in men, are some of the reasons.

Over the last two decades many other industrialized countries have made greater strides in life expectancy than the United States.

“This is a wake-up call for all of us,” said Ali Mokdad, one of the institute’s epidemiologists, said in a call with reporters before presenting the data at a conference. “Compared to what is happening in other western countries, we are lagging behind bigtime.”

An interactive tool at the institute’s website allows one to watch how life expectancy changed between 1989 and 2009 with cities and counties represented as colored bubbles.

Every place shows some improvement over that period. But in their little steps and big leaps (and, sometimes, lack of motion) each city or county tells its own story.

Here are a few things to watch for on the initial screen after clicking the start arrowhead.

The life expectancy in Baltimore and Washington barely moved in the early 1990s, which was a time of high homicide rates and AIDS mortality. After combination antiretroviral therapy for HIV infection came on the scene in 1996, and as murder rates fell later that decade, each city began to make gains. Washington’s were much bigger than Baltimore’s.

New York’s Bronx and Queens sketch the same general course, but much more dramatically. By 2009, Queens is in a different statistical neighborhood, hanging out with Gunnison, Colo., and Olmsted, Minn.

(And don’t miss New Orleans, buffeted by Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, careening like a pinball in the mid-2000s.)

By  |  07:16 PM ET, 04/19/2012

 
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