Special Report

States With the Shortest Life Expectancies

The United States has a health problem. Across the country, life expectancies routinely fail to meet the standards set by other developed nations. Differences in life expectancy between the United States and other developed nations, such as Switzerland and Japan, are dramatic.

One major problem facing the United States is the extreme disparity in life expectancies. In Mississippi, the life expectancy at birth in was just 75 years as of 2010, the lowest in the nation. In both Hawaii and Minnesota, a resident born in 2010 could expect to live 81 years on average, six years more than in Mississippi.

The consequences of a shortened life expectancy are severe. Mortality rates are highest in the states with the lowest life expectancies, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In four of these states, the 2012 age-adjusted mortality rate was greater than 900 deaths per 100,000 people. By comparison, the nationwide rate was 732.8 deaths per 100,000 people.

Click here to see the 10 states with the shortest life expectancy

Click here to see the 10 states where people live longest

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Poor health can have an intergenerational effect as well. In the states with the lowest life expectancies at birth, infants were far more likely to suffer from low birthweight. A low birthweight points to two issues: possibly poor parental health and potential future health problems for the infant.

Some contributors to poor health, and the resulting low life expectancies, are preventable. Smoking, for instance, was far more prevalent in the states with the lowest life expectancies. In West Virginia, more than 27% of adults smoked as of last year. By comparison, just 19% of Americans were smokers. Physical inactivity is also quite high in such states, led by Mississippi, where 35% of people did not exercise regularly.

In order to identify the states with the lowest life expectancies at birth in 2010 24/7 Wall St. reviewed figures from the OECD’s 2014 study on regional well-being. Data on age-adjusted mortality rates are from the CDC for 2012. Figures on poverty and health insurance coverage are from the Census Bureau’s 2013 American Community Survey. Other figures cited are from the 2014 edition of America’s Health Rankings, an annual study from the United Health Foundation.

These are the states with the shortest life expectancy.

10. Georgia
> Life expectancy: 77.2 years
> Obesity rate: 30.3% (18th highest)
> Poverty rate: 19.0% (5th highest)

Georgia’s life expectancy at birth was just 77.2 years in 2010, among the lowest in the nation. As in many other states with low life expectancies, poverty is quite high in Georgia. As of 2013, 19% of the population lived below the poverty line, one of the highest rates in the nation. People in the state were also more likely to be uninsured, at 18.8% of the population, fourth-highest in the nation.

9. South Carolina
> Life expectancy: 77.0 years
> Obesity rate: 31.7% (10th highest)
> Poverty rate: 18.6% (8th highest)

Nearly 10% of infants born in South Carolina in 2012 had a low birthweight, among the highest rates in the country. Low birthweight is both an indicator of possibly poor maternal health, as well as a predictor of potentially poor health for the infant as he or she grows up. Like most of the states with the lowest life expectancies, South Carolina has a high obesity rate. Nearly 32% of the population was obese in 2013.

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8. Tennessee
> Life expectancy: 76.3 years
> Obesity rate: 33.7% (4th highest)
> Poverty rate: 17.8% (12th highest)

As in most states with the lowest life expectancies, Tennessee residents were generally more likely than most Americans to smoke, be overweight, and physically inactive. All of these are factors that can reduce life expectancies, and increase mortality rates. Tennessee’s age-adjusted mortality rate was among the highest in the nation. Tennessee also had the highest statewide crime rate in the nation in 2012, which may also contribute to the high levels of premature death in the state.

7. Kentucky
> Life expectancy: 76.0 years (tied-6th lowest)
> Obesity rate: 33.2% (5th highest)
> Poverty rate: 18.8% (6th highest)

The life expectancy at birth for people in Kentucky was just 76 years in 2010, only one year higher than the worst-ranked state in the United States. As of 2013, Kentucky had the second highest smoking rate in the country, at 26.5% of the adult population, behind only neighboring West Virginia. The state also had among the highest rates of drug-related deaths, with 24.0 per 100,000 people between 2010 and 2012. No state had a higher rate of preventable hospitalizations among Medicare enrollees, which can indicate inefficient use of, or limited access to, off-site care.

6. Arkansas
> Life expectancy: 76.0 years (tied-6th lowest)
> Obesity rate: 34.2% (3rd highest)
> Poverty rate: 19.7% (4th highest)

Arkansans were among the least likely Americans to be physically active on a regular basis in 2013, when 31.5% of the population did not exercise regularly. By comparison, just 23.5% of people nationwide were physically inactive. People in the state were also both among the most likely Americans to smoke and be obese. All of these factors, especially when taken together, can have an extremely negative effect on life expectancies.

5. Oklahoma
> Life expectancy: 75.9 years
> Obesity rate: 32.5% (7th highest)
> Poverty rate: 16.8% (16th highest)

A combination of unhealthy behaviors contributed to Oklahoma’s low life expectancy. Worse still, the state has comparatively few general physicians taking care of the population and encouraging people to be healthy. There were just 84.8 primary care physicians per 100,000 people, third fewest of any state. Nearly 18% of the state did not have health care coverage last year, one of the worst rates in the nation.

4. Louisiana
> Life expectancy: 75.7 years
> Obesity rate: 33.1% (6th highest)
> Poverty rate: 19.8% (3rd highest)

Louisiana had some of the highest rates of smoking, inactivity, and obesity in the nation. More than 33% of people in the state were obese in 2013, versus 29.4% of all Americans. Poverty is a major factor contributing to obesity, and Louisianans are quite poor. Nearly 20% of the state’s population lived in poverty in 2013, the third highest rate nationwide. Obesity, in turn, contributes to the state’s high level of diabetes, which afflicted 11.6% of the population in 2013.

ALSO READ: America’s Most (and Least) Healthy States

3. West Virginia
> Life expectancy: 75.4 years (tied-2nd highest)
> Obesity rate: 35.1% (tied-the highest)
> Poverty rate: 18.5% (10th highest)

In 2012, West Virginia had 93.3 preventable hospitalizations for every 1,000 Medicare enrollees, more than in almost any other state. This marks a dramatic improvement from the prior year, when there were more than 103 such hospitalizations per 1,000 enrollees. Still, West Virginia had one of the nation’s worst smoking rates and was tied for the nation’s most obese state, at 35.1% of all adults. It also had 31.3 drug-related deaths for every 100,000 people from 2010 to 2012, by far the worst rate in the nation.

2. Alabama
> Life expectancy: 75.4 years (tied-2nd highest)
> Obesity rate: 32.4% (8th highest)
> Poverty rate: 18.7% (7th highest)

In 2012, Alabama was one of three states where more than 10,000 years of life were lost prematurely, which is the number of years lost by people who died before they reached age 75. Poor health outcomes, such as the nation’s highest rates of diabetes and cardiovascular deaths, contributed to the high level of years of life lost prematurely. There were 329.2 cardiovascular-related deaths per 100,000 people from 2010 to 2012, the second highest rate nationally.

1. Mississippi
> Life expectancy: 75.0 years
> Obesity rate: 35.1% (tied-the highest)
> Poverty rate: 24.0% (the highest)

Mississippi had the lowest life expectancy at birth in the United States, at just 75 years in 2010. Contributing to this, MIssissippi was tied for the nation’s most obese state in 2013, with an obesity rate greater than 35%. Mississippians are also the least physically active Americans. Poor health behaviors may contribute to alarmingly high numbers of children born at low birthweights, as well as to premature deaths. As of 2012, there were 10,354 years of life lost prematurely for every 100,000 people, the highest rate in the nation.

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