People in this region are living longer, healthier lives than they did 35 years ago, but lifespans can vary dramatically, depending on where you live, according to new research.
Overall, the average life expectancy at birth in this nine-county region increased from 74.06 years in 1980 to 78.07 years in 2014, according to a report from The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, an independent global health research center at the University of Washington in Seattle.
But people born in Warren and Greene counties in 2014 were expected to significantly outlive most of their neighbors, with life expectancy of just under 80 years in both counties. Warren and Greene counties also saw the biggest increase in life expectancy from 1980 to 2014, with life expectancy increasing by about five years in each county during the study period.
Statewide, life expectancy in Ohio was up from 73.32 years in 1980 to 77.91 years in 2014. That was just below the U.S. average, which climbed from 73.75 years in 1980 to 79.08 years in 2014.
The higher-than-average life expectancy in the two most affluent counties in the local area, came as no surprise to local population experts, who say there is a direct correlation between higher incomes and increased life expectancy.
Life expectancy up across the Miami Valley
“Income plays a role in all health outcomes, and life expectancy is no different. It’s probably one of the biggest factors that affects life expectancy,” said Sara Paton, director of epidemiology and biostatistics in the Department of Population and Public Health Sciences at Wright State University’s’s Boonshoft School of Medicine.
Higher incomes generally result in better access to health care, healthier diets and lifestyles — all factors that contribute to lower mortality rates and higher life expectancy, Paton explained.
During the study period, Warren County had a median household income of $74,379 — 51 percent higher than the median household income for the state of $49,429 — and just 4.8 percent of the county’s residents were medically uninsured, based on the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey’s five-year estimates from 2011-2015.
By comparison, Clark County, which had the lowest life expectancy in the region in 2014 at 76.34 years, had median household income of $43,625, and nearly 8 percent of the population was medically uninsured, according to the Census Bureau estimates.
“We have a higher percentage of people living in poverty,” said Clark County Health Commissioner Charles Patterson. “There is a direct correlation between poverty and environmental factors like the adult smoking rate, for instance. The higher the percentage of people living in poverty, the higher the percentage of people smoking, which hurts life expectancy.”
The area’s most populous county, Montgomery County, had life expectancy from birth of about 76.91 years in 2014, up from 73.03 in 1980 — a gain of 3.88 years, according to IHME.
Meanwhile, fast-growing Butler County — the second biggest county in the region — saw life expectancy increase 4.23 years from 1980 to 77.88 years for people born in 2014.
“We have a population that is keenly aware of their health. And with Butler County focusing on its parks, and policies and programs that promote healthy behaviors, I can see why we’re living longer,” said Jackie Phillips, the health commissioner for the city of Middletown, who attributed the county’s life expectancy, in part, to steady declines in smoking, and reductions over the years in chronic conditions, such as obesity and diabetes.
Such risk factors account for about 74 percent of the variation in longevity, according to the IHME report.
While life expectancy has increased across the state over the past three decades, a recent spike in mortality rates, attributed largely to drug overdose deaths stemming from opioid drug abuse, including heroin, fentanyl and prescription drugs, may be pushing life expectancy in the opposite direction, experts say.
“In 2015 and 2016, we had a drastic increase in the number of opioid deaths,” Clark County’s Patterson said. “And no one is overdosing at 83. They’re overdosing at 30, 40, 50 years old. The years of life lost is a massive attack on our lifespans.”
In 2015, Ohio was among the Top 5 states in the nation with the highest rates of death from drug overdoses at 29.9 per 100,000 residents, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nationwide, there were 52,404 drug overdose deaths in 2015 — a rate of 16.3 deaths per 100,000 residents — and nearly two-thirds (63 percent) involved an opioid, according to the CDC.
The increase in drug deaths helped drive the U.S. death rate up for the first time in decades in 2015, when approximately 86,000 more deaths were recorded nationwide than in 2014, according to The National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).
The 2015 death rate jumped 1.2 percent from 724.6 deaths per 100,000 people in 2014 to 733.1 in 2015, according to NCHS, which reported standard life expectancy at birth dropped to 78.8 years from 78.9 over the same period.
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