Life expectancy is on the rise in the Carolinas, a new study shows. But how long people live varies by nearly a decade depending on the county.
The study by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington was published recently in JAMA Internal Medicine. It looked at life expectancy at birth in counties nationwide between 1980 and 2014.
The Observer analyzed the report’s data for North and South Carolina. How long people were expected to live varied by more than seven years in North Carolina and by more than 9 1/2 years in South Carolina.
(Click on the link below for an interactive map of Carolina counties.)
Mecklenburg’s 2014 life expectancy stood at 79.6 years, tops in the Charlotte region, and seventh highest out of North Carolina’s 100 counties. Union and Cabarrus County were close behind with 79 years and 78.1 years respectively, while Chester County, S.C., had 73.6 years life expectancy.
Wake County residents had the longest life expectancy in North Carolina, at 80.9 years On the other end sat Robeson County near Fayetteville at 73.7 years.
Those numbers are significant, said study co-author Ali Mokdad.
“Seven years (difference between counties) is a lot,” he said. “To see that within a state like North Carolina ...is a wake up call for action to see why this is happening.”
Beaufort County, S.C., which includes Hilton Head, had that state’s biggest life expectancy at 81.6 years while Marlboro County, S.C., had the smallest at 72 years.
What’s more, the life expectancy growth rate also differed greatly in the Carolinas, with several counties seeing double digit increases while others saw little change at all.
Nationally, researchers found that there was a 20-year difference between the top and bottom counties on the list.
Mokdad cited several factors that contribute to lower life expectancy, with the main causes involving preventable factors such as smoking, obesity, high blood pressure and lack of exercise. Other factors include lack of access to healthcare, quality of health insurance and poverty.
Mokdad hopes people see the study as an urgent call to learn what works at the local level and engage in reducing preventable risk factors.
“That’s the sad part,” Mokdad said. “What’s happening here is that there are people that are left behind....It’s not acceptable.”
79.6 Years, Mecklenburg County, life expectancy, 2014
79 Union County
78.1 Cabarrus County
77.4 York County, S.C.
77.3 Iredell County
77.2 Lincoln County
76.8 Lancaster, S.C.
75.4 Gaston County
73.6 Chester County, S.C.
Other highlights of the data include:
▪ Mecklenburg’s life expectancy grew by 8.9 percent, tops in the region.
▪ Indeed, North Carolina’s fast growing metro regions around Charlotte, Raleigh and Wilmington saw significant gains in life expectancy, said Rebecca Tippett, director of Carolina Demography at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Carolina Population Center.
▪ Life expectancy in a several Carolina counties grew by 10 percent or more, including Chatham outside Raleigh, and Beaufort and Edgefield in South Carolina.
▪ A trio of western North Carolina counties bordering Tennessee, Cherokee, Graham and Yancey, had the lowest growth rates anywhere in the Carolinas, from between 2.1 and 2.5 percent.
▪ Nationally, the average life expectancy growth rate was 7.2 percent. North Carolina had a 7 percent growth rate and South Carolina saw a 7.1 percent rate.
▪ There are 13 counties in the country, most of which are in Kentucky, where the expected lifespan actually was lower in 2014 than in 1980. Parts of remote Alaska and a couple counties around New York City were among the highest growth counties.
▪ Oglala Lakota County, S.D., which includes the Pine Ridge Native American reservation, had the country’s lowest life expectancy at 66.8 years. That’s comparable to life expectancies in Sudan, India and Iraq, according to the study authors.
▪ A cluster of Colorado counties had the highest U.S. life expectancy, topped by 86.8 years in Summit County.