Study Finds U.S. Women's Lifespan Dropping

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • I think we often assume that we're going to live a really long life. However, a new study just found that life expectancy for women has dropped, which has surprised many experts.


    Researchers from the University of Wisconsin looked at data that focused on male and female mortality rates from 1992-1996 to 2002-2006 in 3,140 counties in the United States. The researchers used a five-year average in order to offset deaths in counties with small populations that could produce dramatic differences in the death rate on different years.

    The researchers found that the rate of women who were dying at a younger age fell from 324 to 318 per 100,000. However, the average premature death rate increased in 1,344 counties.

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    Their analysis found that female mortality rates of women who were 75 years of age and younger increased in 42.8 percent of counties. In comparison, male mortality rates increased in 3.4 percent of the counties. These deaths are sometimes called “premature death rates” because many could have been prevented.

    The researchers found that several factors were associated with lower mortality rates. These included some reasons that were not surprising (such as not smoking). Other factors included having a higher level of education as well as not living in the South or the West.

    So why are women’s mortality rates changing? The researchers don’t know. However, some clues from other studies may be emerging.


    I recently wrote a sharepost for HealthCentral’s diet and exercise site about a new study presented at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference 2013 that suggests a link between a regular diet of Southern-style food and an increased risk of stroke. This study involved more than 20,000 people from 48 states who were part of the Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke Study that began in 2003. The participants were all at least 45 years old and were either white or black. This study also involved an equal number of men and women.

    A Southern diet was defined as having a high intake of fried chicken, fried fish, fried potatoes, bacon, ham, liver, gizzards, sugary drinks such as sweet tea, whole milk, eggs and red meat. The researchers’ analysis found that participants who ate this type of food approximately six times a week had a 41-percent higher risk of stroke. Furthermore, study participants who were African Americans who ate this type of diet had a 63-percent higher risk of stroke than the white participants.

    Heart Disease

    Many women, especially among minority groups, still don’t realize that heart disease is the leading cause of death among women. A new study from the American Heart Association noted that 24 percent of the study participants incorrectly cited cancer as the leading killer of women in 2012. Furthermore, in 2012, 36 percent of black women and 34 percent of Hispanic women said that heart disease was the top killer of women; in comparison, white women had that level of awareness more than a decade earlier (1997).

  • This study involved online and telephone surveys with more than 1,200 women who were 25 years of age and older between August and October 2012. The results of the survey were compared with previous surveys that were conducted in 1997, 2000, 2003, 2006 and 2009. These surveys gauged women’s lifestyle, the awareness of the leading cause of death among women, the warning signs of a heart attack among women, and what the women would do if they experienced heart attack symptoms.

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    The researchers also found that 61 percent of the study participants in 2012 said they would take preventive action in order to feel better. In comparison, 45 percent said they would take preventive action in order to live longer.

    I am sure there are other reasons for the lower age of mortality, but these two studies illustrate the need for women to really think about their health, work with their health care provider to identify any risks and make the lifestyle choices to help them live a long and vibrant life.

    Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

    American Heart Association. (2013). There’s room for improvement in women’s heart disease awareness.

    Houston Chronicle. (2013). Life expectancy of women dips, baffling experts.

    Kindig, D. A. & Cheng, E. R. (2013). Even as mortality fell in most US counties, female mortality nonetheless rose in 42.8 percent of counties from 1992 to 2006. HealthAffairs.

Published On: March 05, 2013