Residents of Hawaii have the highest life expectancy in the nation and residents of the District of Columbia have the lowest, according to a report by the National Center for Health Statistics.
The report, derived from the 1980 census and from death rate statistics, estimates that the average life expectancy of Hawaii residents from 1979 to 1981 was 77.02 years -- with males at 74.08 years and females at 80.33.
The District of Columbia trailed every state in the nation, with an overall life expectancy of 69.20 years (males 64.55 years, females 73.70).
Virginia ranked 36th with an overall life expectancy of 73.43 -- 69.60 for males and 77.27 for females. Maryland ranked 38th with a life expectancy of 73.32 years overall. Males were at 69.71 and females at 76.83.
The figures were the latest available for individual states and represent the number of years the average infant would live if the death rates prevailing during the period from 1979 to 1981 continued throughout their lifetimes. The state levels are probably a bit higher now, because life expectancy for all persons has increased slightly.
Nationwide, the highest-ranking states in the period after Hawaii were Minnesota, Iowa, Utah, North Dakota, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Kansas, Colorado, Idaho, Washington and Connecticut.
Many of the southern states were among the lowest-ranking in the country -- Tennessee, Delaware, Kentucky, North Carolina, West Virginia, Nevada, Alabama, Alaska, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina and Louisiana ranked 39th to 50th, respectively, just above the District.
Secretary of Health and Human Services Margaret M. Heckler, in a recent report on minority health, said department statistics show that persons of Asian and Pacific Island origin are the healthiest in the nation, possibly because they eat and drink less than others. This may help explain why Hawaii, with a large population of Asian origin, showed the highest life expectancy.
The large number of low-income blacks in the population of the District and of southeastern states probably explains why the District and these states have low life-expectancy rates. The Heckler report said that because of low income, blacks and some other minorities often have poor diets, no health insurance and little means to pay for medical care, resulting in high death and infant-mortality rates.
Many of the states with the highest life expectancies contain few low-income blacks, while many of the lower-ranking states contain many low-income blacks and low-income whites, in many cases living in rural areas.
Overall national statistics show that whites have far higher life expectancy than blacks. For the period studied, overall life expectancy was 73.88 years, while for blacks alone it was only 68.52.
In the District at that time, life expectancy for whites was 74.83 but only 66.96 for blacks.
Today the life expectancy for all groups is about a year more than in 1979-1981 and four years more than in 1969-1971. Preliminary national figures for 1984, according to the NCHS, put overall life expectancy for all persons at 74.7 years in 1984 -- with males at 71.1 years and women at 78.3 years.
For whites the overall figure in 1984 was 75.3 years (males 71.8, females 78.8) and for blacks, 69.7 (males 65.5, females 73.7).
Women's life expectancies have long been higher than those of men. Some explanations that have been offered include: genetic differences; less job stress because fewer women worked outside the home; and lower rates of potentially health-threatening habits such as smoking and drinking