Mississippi ranks near bottom in U.S. for life expectancy

Published 4:15 pm Tuesday, September 12, 2006

When Dan Glaser moved from Louisiana to Mississippi, he unknowingly lowered his life expectancy.

The average life span in Mississippi is 73.6 years, placing the state ahead of only the District of Columbia with the lowest life expectancy in the nation.

At 74.2 years, Louisiana’s life expectancy is only slightly above Mississippi. Hawaii has the longest life expectancy at 80 years.

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“I thought Louisiana had the lowest because of all of the industries,” Glaser said Monday, before adding that he’s noticed that portion sizes in Mississippi restaurants are larger than he’s used to.

Diet, or lack thereof, is one of the main factors contributing to the high mortality rates of Mississippians, said Dr. Marshall Bouldin, director of the Diabetes and Metabolism Center at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson.

One in three Mississippians has diabetes, said Bouldin, citing statistics from the Centers for Disease Control. He said the state’s diabetes prevalence rate is 11 percent, up from 7 percent just six years ago.

Bouldin said the state’s obesity epidemic is fueling the increase in diseases that can cut life short, such as diabetes, cardiovascular ailments and kidney failure.

“Our children will die younger than we did,” Bouldin said. “Later in this century will be the first time in the history of the United States that life expectancy will actually decrease for everyone.”

Mississippi has six counties listed among the 25 in the U.S. with the lowest life expectancy — Coahoma, Sunflower, Washington, Tunica, Tallahatchie and Quitman — according to research conducted by Dr. Christopher Murray of the Harvard School of Public Health.

Murray on Monday reported initial results of his government-funded study in the online science journal PLoS Medicine.

The report contends that where you live, combined with race and income, plays a huge role in the nation’s health disparities.

That contention would appear to bear out in Mississippi as five of the six counties with the lowest life expectancies are in the Delta, a predominantly black region that is among the poorest in the nation.

Living in low economic areas or places with limited access to an abundance of fruit and vegetables would contribute to conditions that lower life expectancy, said Dr. Annette Low, an internist and director of the Center of Excellence in Women’s Health at UMC.

“It has to do with culture as well,” Low said. “If you look at habits, we are very sedentary and have a high prevalence of fried foods that is more readily available to other choices.”

Glaser, a 48-year-old who moved from New Orleans to Jackson, said the best way to improve his life expectancy would be to “cut down on certain types of food and the amount of food. That’s what it boils down to.”

Bouldin said other factors include access to health care. Bouldin said Mississippi doesn’t have enough providers for its residents. He said most providers are in the urban areas of Jackson, Hattiesburg and the Gulf Coast. He said the Delta and other rural areas are underserved.

In Hinds County, where the state capital of Jackson is located, the average life expectancy is 73.5 years. In Washington County, in the Delta, it is 71.2 years.

“The best news is that there’s a lot that people can do,” said Bouldin. “There’s a lot of evidence that shows just a small amount of weight loss, 5 to 10 percent, and 30 minutes of walking five times a week is sufficient to change a lot of these risk parameters.”