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Stanford study sheds light on wealth, zip code and lifespan

money U.S. mapWe all know that for optimum health we should exercise, eat a healthy diet, get plenty of sleep and not smoke. What we hear less often is that health is as much a matter of circumstance as choice.

A study this week in JAMA drives home that point powerfully with data suggesting that our address determines our lifespan, and the poorer we are, the more true it is.

The research, led by Stanford economist Raj Chetty, PhD, and involving anonymous data on deaths from 1999 to 2014, showed, for example, that men in the bottom 5 percent of incomes who live in New York City live 5 years longer than similar men in Gary, Indiana. "Where you live matters much more if you are poor than if you are rich," Chetty said.

The New York Times put together some striking graphics to illustrate their story on the work yesterday, and Miriam Wasserman detailed some of the findings in a Stanford Report piece:

After taking into account differences in life expectancy that stem from ethnic and racial composition, the researchers found that some of the lowest levels of life expectancy for the poor were in the industrial Midwest.

Eight of the 10 states with the lowest levels of life expectancy for the poor formed a geographic belt from Michigan to Kansas, encompassing Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas and Oklahoma. In contrast, the poor had significantly longer life expectancies in California, New York and Vermont.

Wasserman also points out that the study's overall findings "have implications for national policies like Social Security and Medicare. The fact that the rich have longer lifespans than the poor means that low-income people are paying into the system for a long time but don't get to enjoy the benefits as long. This is particularly important to discussions of raising the retirement age."

Previously: A look at aging and longevity in this “unprecedented” time in history and To live longer, men need to embrace their femininity, new research suggests
Photo by Timisu

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