Free Markets, Free People

life expectancy

Is policy killing red-state women?

I see some on the Left passing around this map showing that female mortality worsened in many counties between the early/mid-’90s and the early/mid-2000s.  (Meanwhile, male mortality only worsened in 3.4% of counties.)

They noticed red states doing worse than blue states, and thought that this must, of course, be due to the Republican war on women™.

The mortality rate of females [worsening] in 43 percent of U.S. counties from 2002-2006 is eye-opening. This map from health researcher Bill Gardner helps you see where the worst results are typically coming from — red states and the redder parts of blue states.

It apparently did not occur to these partisans to control for a fairly simple, innocent phenomenon: old people just die more frequently than younger people.

  • Rural areas are aging faster as they have fewer kids who stick around – and it’s mostly women left behind, since women have a longer life expectancy than men in the US.  So the mortality rate of a county could go up even if people are as healthy for their age as ever.
  • On the other hand, when you have an influx of young people (like in high-immigration counties), the mortality rate drops.

As evidence for this, look at the overlaps between the above map and two others:

More old people combined with fewer people in the prime of their health tends to mean a higher death rate, and vice versa.  It’s not a perfect correlation, but at very least it’s something that should be taken into account before blaming policy for deaths.

It certainly seems like less of a stretch than trying to blame the trend in female mortality on suicides connected to expanded gun ownership:

[A]nother study suggests that red states’ high levels of gun ownership make them especially dangerous:

With few exceptions, states with the highest rates of gun ownership — for example, Alaska, Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Alabama, and West Virginia — also tended to have the highest suicide rates.

How big of a stretch is this as a contributor to female mortality?  Two little hints:

And then there’s this bold prediction:

With red states rushing to turn down the Medicaid expansion, these results will likely only get worse.

That’s not outlandish as guesses go, since women consume two thirds of medical care in this country, but there’s not an obvious nationwide relationship between Medicaid dependence and changes in women’s mortality (though controlling for ethnicity might be a start):

Blaming the party elected by older people for higher mortality in the areas they govern is like blaming Democrats for young urbanites being more prone to violent crime than old rural farmers.  If you’re not controlling for other causes, you’re just trolling for partisan causes.

How much exercise do I have to do to live longer?

In this era of sedentary living (video games and Blu-ray) and working (office), couch potatoes know they should be doing some exercise, but many are loath to commit to more than necessary to be healthy and extend their lives.  So for those among us who know they should do more but aren’t sure what the “minimum” of “more” should be, a study out of Taiwan may help:

On the basis of the amount of weekly exercise indicated in a self-administered questionnaire, participants were placed into one of five categories of exercise volumes: inactive, or low, medium, high, or very high activity. We calculated hazard ratios (HR) for mortality risks for every group compared with the inactive group, and calculated life expectancy for every group.


Compared with individuals in the inactive group, those in the low-volume activity group, who exercised for an average of 92 min per week (95% CI 71—112) or 15 min a day (SD 1·8), had a 14% reduced risk of all-cause mortality (0·86, 0·81—0·91), and had a 3 year longer life expectancy. Every additional 15 min of daily exercise beyond the minimum amount of 15 min a day further reduced all-cause mortality by 4% (95% CI 2·5—7·0) and all-cancer mortality by 1% (0·3—4·5). These benefits were applicable to all age groups and both sexes, and to those with cardiovascular disease risks. Individuals who were inactive had a 17% (HR 1·17, 95% CI 1·10—1·24) increased risk of mortality compared with individuals in the low-volume group.

So take heart, couch potatoes, the minimums are in.  15 minutes is all that’s asked to tack on another 3 years of the good life.  About the same amount of time it takes to fast charge your smart phone.   Or think of it as 8 trips to get beer and potato chips.  You can do it.  Join the low-volume exercise group now and 3 more golden years are yours for the taking.


Twitter: @McQandO

An Interesting But Apparently Obscure Health Care Fact

One of the questions constantly posed as the debate over health care insurance reform rages is, “if we have such a great health care system, why is our life expectancy lower than countries with socialized care?”

Well apparently it is our propensity to murder each other and die in car accidents which obscures the fact that with those factored out, we actually enjoy the longest life expectancy. James Joyner provides the numbers and a handy little chart.

But the bottom line is when you remove homicide and car crashes, we jump from number 15 with a life expectancy of 75.3 to number 1 with a life expectancy of 76.9.

So we must be doing something right in the medical field wouldn’t you say – certainly more so than anyone else if you want to hang your hat on life expectancy data that only focuses on what medicine can help.  Drive safely and avoid getting on the losing side of a gun fight and you can expect to be around for longer than any of those in the so-called “more advanced” countries.

And, as Dodd points out, there’s even a way to improve the homicide numbers:

Homicide, however, we could impact immediately and irrevocably right now simply by decriminalizing most (or all) currently illegal drugs. Remove the artificial, government-created scarcity, and the profits and incentive to engage in underworld violence that goes with it, and the homicide rate would fall significantly. More of our young men would survive to middle adulthood, hundreds of thousands of prisoners would be freed (or never created) to engage in productive work, and our life expectancy at birth would jump immediately and permanently. All without the government having to nationalize one-sixth of the economy and expropriate trillions more dollars from the private sector to pay for the hope that the outcome will be improved.

He’s right, of course – remove profit, remove incentive. The drug market today is a government created market. And it reacts to the distorted incentives prohibition introduces into such a market.

We know how to regulate such markets legally. We do it fairly successfully with alcohol. And we don’t have booze gangs shooting it out in turf wars or finding bunches of bodies from bootleg deals gone wrong.

Why we don’t consider reform in this area is beyond me. Life expectancy numbers would certainly see an increase if we did. So would our freedom and liberty numbers.