First the good news: People in most industrialized (aka wealthy) nations live roughly 25 years longer, on average, than they would have 100 years ago.

Life expectancy in most industrialized nations now tops 75 years. The increase is mainly the result of better hygiene practices and medical innovations that have helped ward off infectious diseases and epidemics and dramatically reduced infant mortality rates.

As this Above the Noise video explains, with increased longevity has come an onslaught of anti-aging applications that promise to stretch out your life  even further, or at least make you look and feel younger than you really are. Among the latest anti-aging fads: teen blood transfusions! Read more about this blood thirsty trend on KQED’s Future of You blog.

Location, location, location!

Within the United States,  geography is a major determinate of health and longevity. Where you live can actually be a matter of life and death, according to an analysis by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation published last spring in JAMA Internal Medicine. Populations in areas with the shortest life expectancy rates are typically among the poorest and least educated in the U.S.

Courtesy of NPR

Researchers crunched public health data from every county in the country between 1980 and 2014, revealing dramatic disparities. In 2014, there was a difference of more than 20 years between people living in counties with the longest and shortest average life spans (based on life expectancy at birth). That’s roughly the same life span gap as that between people living in Japan and India.

At 82 years, men in Fairfax, VA have among the highest life expectancy in the country. But head just 350 miles to McDowell County, WV and that drops to just 67 years for men. Meanwhile, women in Marin County live to 85 on average, the country’s highest female life expectancy. Compare that to Perry County, KY, where average female life expectancy is 74.

The lowest rate in the country is in Oglala Lakota County, S.D., which includes the Pine Ridge Native American reservation, where average life expectancy falls is under 67 years.

Many of the other areas with low life expectancy rates are congregated in the lower Mississippi River Valley and some areas of Appalachia.

The authors of the report note that these disparities appear to be widening: between 1980 and 2014, the gap between the highest and lowest life spans increased by about two years.

Mouse over IHM’s incredibly detailed map to see how life expectancy rates and various health conditions in counties throughout the country have changed over the last three decades.


Global context

While average American life expectancy still exceeds that in most other countries, it still lags behind the world’s other high income nations. And that’s in large part because of poor diet: heart disease remains America’s number one killer. At 79.3 years, the U.S ranks 31st in life expectancy, according to 2015 data from the World Health Organization.

Mouse over the map below to see how the U.S. compares to other nations around the world.

VIDEO: Aging, Longevity and the Eternal Fight to Stay Young 12 March,2018Matthew Green


Matthew Green

Matthew Green is a digital media producer for KQED News. He previously produced The Lowdown, KQED’s multimedia news education blog. Matthew's written for numerous Bay Area publications, including the Oakland Tribune and San Francisco Chronicle. He also taught journalism classes at Fremont High School in East Oakland.

Email:; Twitter: @MGreenKQED

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