Archived Story

Life expectancy rises locally, but Alabama, South behind

Published 8:08pm Thursday, June 23, 2011

A recent study shows that while average life expectancy is rising in Tallapoosa County and the state of Alabama, the Southeast as a whole is behind the rest of the country.

The study, conducted by Population Health Metrics, charts life expectancy averages for a 20-year period. From 1987-2007, the average expectancy for females in Tallapoosa County rose to 78.2 years from 77, while the male average jumped from 68.3 to 71.7 years.

The national average, however, is 80.8 years for women and 75.6 years for men. The study analysis concludes that “the lowest life expectancies for both sexes were in counties in Appalachia and the Deep South, extending across northern Texas.”

Alabama ranks 48th in male expectancy and 46th in female expectancy.

A number of factors contribute to the results, but Tallapoosa County Health Department nurse supervisor Debbie Thompson says two issues hurt Alabama and the South.

“Obesity and smoking are our biggest problems,” Thompson said. “In the South, we have our own lifestyle and way of cooking, and the foods we eat have a lot of fat.

“Obviously, lung and heart cancer come with smoking. I would think those two things have a direct impact on how we live and why the South is behind.”

Thompson said it is promising, though, that Tallapoosa County and the state saw an increase overall in the last 20 years. The 3.4-year increase in male expectancy in Tallapoosa County was the seventh highest improvement in Alabama. The state average was +2.1 years for men and +0.5 years for women.

“That’s a good sign, and maybe it means we’re headed in the right direction,” Thompson said. “I think people are more aware of the need to exercise, and I’ve seen more wellness groups form along with good attendance in those groups. We just need to continue to watch fat intake and eating healthier.”

The study broke down results by race and found a lower life expectancy for black women and men. In Tallapoosa County, the number is 74.8 for black females (up from 73.2 in 1987) and 67.4 for black males (up from 63.4). The average for white women is 79.4 (up from 78.3) and the average for white men is 73.1 (up from 69.9).

The states with the highest life expectancies were Hawaii (84.1) for women and Minnesota (78) for men.