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Study: More Americans die younger in red states

By Lee Cleveland - January 29, 2023

A recent study conducted by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington has found that Americans die an average of 5.7 years earlier than people in Japan, 3.3 years earlier than Canadians, and 2.2 years before their counterparts in other countries.

Given our advances in technology and medicine as well as our high standard of living, why is America so far behind other advanced countries in life expectancy?

Are red states’ policies reducing life expectancy in America?

According to a PLOS ONE study published in 2022 and based on data from 1999 to 2019, more conservative state policies were generally associated with higher mortality rates among people aged 25 to 64.

For instance, in 2019 the life expectancy rates in West Virginia and Hawaii were 74.8 years and 80.9 years, respectively. In fact, and in the same year, the nine states with the highest life expectancy were Democrat-led.

And not surprisingly, strong associations were found between labor policies and alcohol-induced mortality, and gun safety policies and suicide mortality among men.

“As an academic who does scientific research, I studiously avoided talking about politics in my professional work. … But the data are pointing us to that as a determinant of health,” said study co-author Dr. Steven Woolf, director emeritus of the Center on Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond.  

The analysis also revealed changing state policies to fully liberal could have saved more than 171,000 lives in 2019, while changing them to fully conservative may have cost over 217,000 lives. 

The study’s lead author, Jennifer Karas Montez, a professor of sociology at Syracuse University, added:

“If a state policymaker were to say to me, ‘it’s unfair to criticize my state because I have a low-educated, low-income population,’ I would ask them, ‘why do you have a low-educated, low-income population?’” Montez said.

“It’s because of your policy environment.”

And let’s not forget, the study used data from 1999-2019, prior to COVID-19 and the pandemic’s anti-vaxxers.

“We like to think about (working-age mortality) as failures of individuals, that they eat too much or use drugs, but that’s all in context,” said Darrell Gaskin, a health economist at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “If we don’t have the proper regulations in place to protect people, then what happens is that they could be exploited.”  

“State policy matters,” Gaskin said. “We always get the promise from conservative states that we’re going to cut your taxes and regulation and make the environment better for business, and it comes with a cost.”

Read about the PLOS ONE study.

On the county level, too
Incidentally, a Brigham and Women’s Hospital “mortality gap” study similarly found that people who live in Republican-led counties die younger than those under Democratic-led local policies. The gap found heart disease and cancer mortality rates continue to widen between White Americans who live in conservative or liberal municipalities – with Republican-led counties having increasingly worse death rates.