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The Takeaway: Why Aren't American Women Gaining In Life Expectancy As Fast As Men?

Women Lag in Life Expectancy Gains: American women are still expected to outlive their male counterparts by four years, but gains in women's longevity have slowed, according to a new study of mortality data. Between 1989 and 2009, life expectancy for American men improved by an average of 4.6 years, while women's life expectancy improved by just 2.7 years. In many U.S. counties, women's life spans were shorter than they were 20 years ago.

"A gain in life expectancy should be equal among men and women," says Ali Mokdad, director of the research team, from the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, that conducted the study.

This is a wake-up call for all of us. It's tragic that in a country as wealthy as the United States, and with all the medical expertise we have, that so many girls will live shorter lives than their mothers."

On a county-by-county basis, American life spans range from an average of 66.1 to 81.6 years, for men and 73.5 to 86 years for women. According to the study:

  • Since 1999, life expectancy has stopped improving or gotten worse for women in 661 U.S. counties.

  • Women's life expectancy has declined in 84 percent of Oklahoma counties, 58 percent of Tennessee counties and 33 percent of Georgia counties.

  • Women live the longest in Collier, Fla. (85.8), but had the shortest life spans in McDowell, W.Va. (74.1).

The researchers say key reasons for women's lag in life expectancy gains are preventable causes of death, such as tobacco, obesity and alcohol. Women are also less likely than men to adequately treat high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

In terms of global life span, U.S. women rank 38th out of 196 countries, and U.S. men rank 37th. 

Monday Quick Hits: 

  • A new Rolling Stones movie focusing on the making of Exile on Main Street is in the works; based on Robert Greenfield's 2008 book, it will focus particularly on tumult and tension between Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.

Photo: Johner Images / Getty Images

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