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Life expectancy dips in one Oklahoma county, barely improves elsewhere, study shows

ok life expectancy
ok life expectancy

Even as people in most parts of the United States are living longer, the life expectancy in one southwest Oklahoma county has dipped over the decades, according to a new report.

The average life expectancy in Kiowa County dropped by about eight months between 1980 and 2014, according to the report. Although it was the only county in the state where the life expectancy dipped, outcomes barely improved across a broad swathe of Oklahoma.

Nationwide, the study points to a widening gap between rich and poor regions in terms of life expectancy at birth.

"Looking at life expectancy on a national level masks the massive differences that exist at the local level, especially in a country as diverse as the United States," lead author Laura Dwyer-Lindgren said in a statement.

Kiowa County's life expectancy dropped by .74 percent between 1980 and 2014, according to the study, falling from 73.45 years to 72.77 years. Although Kiowa County was the only Oklahoma county to lose ground, much of the state saw only minimal increases in life expectancy. Eight other counties — Jefferson, Okfuskee, Beckham, Carter, Garvin, Dewey, Murray and Stephens counties — saw life expectancy increases of less than 1 percent.

In a statement, Derek Pate, director of the Oklahoma State Department of Health's Center for Health Statistics, cautioned that the dip in Kiowa County's life expectancy wasn't a statistically significant change, meaning it could be the result of random chance rather than a bona fide trend.

Pate said a broad range of factors can affect the life expectancy of a given area, including socioeconomic status, obesity, proper control over chronic conditions, alcohol, tobacco or drug use or even traffic laws and vehicle safety features.

Overall, Oklahoma saw the slimmest improvement in life expectancy, with a 3.37 percent improvement statewide, compared with a 7.23 percent improvement nationwide. The state's life expectancy grew from 73.61 in 1980 to 76.09 in 2014, according to the report.

Kiowa County was one of 13 counties in the nation where life expectancy dipped during the 35-year period included in the study. That list also included eight counties in Kentucky, two in Alabama, one in Mississippi and one in Tennessee. All but one of those counties — Walker County, Alabama, a part of the Birmingham metro area — are rural.

The study, which was conducted by researchers from the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, was published online last week by JAMA Internal Medicine, a medical journal published by the American Medical Association.

During the study, researchers analyzed death records from the National Center for Health Statistics and population records from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Human Mortality Database, a joint project between the University of California, Berkeley, and the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Rostock, Germany.

Researchers concluded that, while life expectancies are improving nationwide, outcomes vary, sometimes dramatically, based on geography. The study's authors write that much of the variation among counties likely comes from some combination of socioeconomic, behavioral, racial and ethnic and health care factors.

Public health policies targeting socioeconomic and behavioral factors could help reverse those disparities, the authors wrote.

"The magnitude of these disparities demands action, all the more urgently because inequalities will only increase further if recent trends are allowed to continue uncontested," the authors wrote.

Silas Allen

Silas Allen is a news reporter for The Oklahoman. He is a Missouri native and a 2008 graduate of the University of Missouri. Read more ›