A gas station worker stocks grape soda in a display case. Overconsumption of sugary drinks are a major contributor to adult and adolescent obesity in Bexar County. Photo by Scott Ball
Overconsumption of sugary drinks is a major contributor to adult and adolescent obesity in Bexar County. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

How long a man or women in the United States lives depends on income level and geography, according to new research published Monday in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Wealthy men live an average of 15 years longer than men who are poor, while the gap between wealthy women and women living in poverty is 10 years. Minorities have a shorter life expectancy than whites.

The JAMA findings are based on more than 1.4 billion federal tax returns filed by U.S. residents between 1999 and 2014, with corresponding mortality data provided by the Social Security Administration. The study was first reported Monday by the New York Times. The results correlate closely with a study of Social Security benefits paid over time, and the benefits gap between rich and poor, published by the Brookings Institute in February.

Race and Ethnicity Adjusted Life Expectancy by Commuting Zone and Income Quartile, 2001-2014. Image courtesy of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Race and Ethnicity Adjusted Life Expectancy by Commuting Zone and Income Quartile, 2001-2014. Image courtesy of the Journal of the American Medical Association. Click here to download full size PDF.

Officials with the City of San Antonio Metro Health Department were not immediately available for comment. The Rivard Report will ask local officials to provide a more detailed analysis of the data after they have had time to study it. The national data in the JAMA report seems to mirror life expectancy numbers contained in the 2013 Health Profile report posted on the City’s website. Data for 2014 and 2015 is not posted.

The JAMA study also shows that more prosperous Americans have enjoyed steadily increased life expectancy over the last 15 years, while poor people have realized little or no gain and often live no longer than some populations in the developing world. In some densely populated cities like New York City, however, the poor live almost as long as the wealthy. The highest life spans are in the densest cities, where people walk more, spend less time driving in vehicles, have access to parks, and where smoking and other activities are more tightly regulated.

From Director of San Antonio Metro Health Department Dr. Thomas Schlenker's presentation, "Obesity in San Antonio: Change in the Right Direction."
Then-director of Metro Health Dr. Thomas Schlenker presented “Obesity in San Antonio: Change in the Right Direction” to City Council on May 2014 and included this suggestion for messaging. His proposed campaign was rejected.

An interactive map published by the Times shows that life expectancy in Bexar County for a 40-year-old living in poverty is 77.8 years, 1.6 years below the national average. The poor living here also will die, on average, eight years before wealthy residents in the county, according to the study. The report notes the eight-year difference in life span between the rich and poor in Bexar County is the same gap found in studies comparing the general populations of the United States and Afghanistan.

The interactive map also notes that the average life span in Austin is nearly two years longer than in San Antonio, and the difference is nearly as great between Bexar and Comal counties.

The study does not draw firm conclusions explaining the growing life expectancy gap, but it does cite corollary associations that contribute to the difference. The poor smoke more, have a higher incidence of obesity, eat less nutritious food and exercise less. They also experience higher levels of stress in their daily lives, and have less access to health care, although the relationship between mortality and medical care is not specifically measured.

The report does state that local government and public health officials can have a measurable impact on health outcomes by adopting policies and supporting educational and public service programming that encourage exercise and activity, discourage tobacco use, and draw links between adult and adolescent obesity and nutrition-deficient consumption, such as sugary drinks and foods high in saturated fats.

Poor people in Bexar County live shorter lives than most of their neighbors.
COUNTY LIFE EXPECTANCY* COMPARED TO BEXAR COUNTY COMPARED TO POOR IN U.S.
Comal 79.4 years +1.6 years 0.0 years
Medina 78.8 years +1.1 years -0.6 years
Wilson 78.1 years +0.4 years -1.3 years
Guadalupe 78.0 years +0.2 years -1.4 years
Bexar 77.8 years 0.0 years -1.6 years
Atascosa 77.2 years -0.5 years -2.2 years

 The lowest life spans nationally for people living in poverty are in the Midwest industrial belt: Gary, Ind.; Indianapolis, Ind., Detroit, and Dayton, Ohio. Cities like Las Vegas and Tulsa and Oklahoma City also have some of the worst average life spans for people living in poverty.

The reduced incidence of preventable diseases among people living in poverty would have a greater impact on average life expectancy than any transfer of wealth, according to the study, which notes that the Center of Diseases Control in Atlanta estimates that average life expectancy would improve by more than three years in the United States if cancer as a cause of death were eliminated.

https://rivardreport.wildapricot.org

Top image: A gas station worker stocks grape soda in a display case. Overconsumption of sugary drinks are a major contributor to adult and adolescent obesity in Bexar County. Photo by Scott Ball

Related Stories:

Nutrition Summit: Turning the Tide of Type 2 Diabetes

San Antonio: A City at War Against Diabetes

Experts Call for Health Beyond the Hospital

School Menus Evolving With Student Choice, Farm to Table

County Takes on Big Sugar After City Effort Stalls

Commentary: Big Soda Sugarcoats City’s Public Health Message

Sugar Drinks: Feeding San Antonio’s Obesity Epidemic

Confronting San Antonio’s Weight Problem

Robert Rivard

Robert Rivard is editor of the San Antonio Report.