Life expectancy in Clark County, and the nation at large, increased over a 20-year period, but the United States continues to lag behind about three dozen nations with the lowest mortality, according to a new study published Wednesday in “Population Health Metrics.”
Men’s longevity climbed from 72.8 years in 1987 to 77.3 years in 2007 in Clark County, while women’s increased from 79 years to 81.4 years, according to the study by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation and Imperial College London.
“If you combine the life expectancy of men and women in Clark County, it’s 80 years old,” said Marni Storey, Clark County Public Health services manager. “People are living longer and later in years in Clark County than in many places in the U.S. That’s good news.”
That’s better than the national average of 75.6 for men and 80.8 for women but worse than the average of the top 10 countries with the lowest mortality, which were used as a point of comparison against each U.S. county. The top 10 are Iceland, Switzerland, Sweden, Japan, Australia, Norway, Canada, Spain, France and The Netherlands.
Out of all of the nation’s counties, Clark ranked 200th, the top 7 percent, for longevity among men and 362nd, the top 12 percent, among women in 2007.
The county’s rate was comparable to other parts of the Portland metro area. Rates among Portland-area men in 2007 ranged from 75.3 years in Multnomah County to 78.9 in Washington County. Among women, the range was between 80.2 in Multnomah County and 82.5 in Washington County.
The study’s researchers ranked mortality rates in all of the nation’s more than 3,100 counties between 1987 and 2007 and compared them to worldwide rates.
Despite spending the most per capita on health care compared to other countries, the United States ranked 33rd in longevity among men and 36th for women.
Researchers cited lack of health insurance and high obesity and smoking rates as some of the possible reasons for the disparity between the United States and other countries.
Deborah Adams, director of YWCA Clark County, a women’s empowerment organization, said it’s unclear why Clark County women might lag farther behind their peers in other countries than men do.
However, Adams noted that the county has a high occurrence of domestic abuse. There were more than 2,200 domestic violence crimes committed in 2006 in Clark County, the sixth-highest in the state, according to the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Another factor could be social pressure on women to take care of home and family, in addition to having a career, she said. Women tend to have more responsibility than men and lower-paying jobs, she said.
Cancer and heart disease are the chief killers of both men and women in the United States.
“That’s true also in Clark County,” Storey said. “Those are the Number 1 concerns we’re trying to address.”
About 64 percent of county residents were overweight or obese as of 2008, and 17 percent were smokers, according to county public health statistics.
The county has attempted to trim its obesity rate by making healthy choices easier for residents to make by working with corner markets, gas stations and schools to offer healthier food options and expanding the area’s bank of community gardens, Storey said.
She said knowledge is not enough for people to make a healthy choice; they also have to have healthy options at restaurants, grocery stores and food suppliers and resources to buy a healthier option.
The county already has plenty of parks and trails, which also help to combat obesity, she said.
Paris Achen/The Columbian 360-735-4551, firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter@Col_Trends