Mississippians can look forward to shorter lives


To live a long and healthy life, eat right, exercise, quit smoking -- and move out of Mississippi.

A woman in Hawaii can expect to live seven years longer than a woman in Mississippi because Mississippi has the lowest life expectancy of the 50 states and District of Columbia, and Hawaii has the highest.

Mississippians live an average of four fewer years than the national average.

It's not just people in the Delta and poor areas of the state who have a lower life expectancy. In Harrison County, which has the state's 15th-highest life expectancy for men, a man will live on average to age 71.8. That is 4.5 years fewer than the national average and nearly seven years fewer than a man in Minnesota. A woman in Harrison County -- the state's 12th-best county -- will live on average to age 78.7 compared with 84.7 years in Hawaii, a six-year difference.

A variety of factors influence life expectancy, said Derek Chapman, associate director for research at Virginia Commonwealth University's Center on Society and Health. It's a combination of access to health care, individual behaviors such as diet and exercise and environmental factors such as pollution and safe neighborhoods.

"Where you live can influence your health in a lot of different ways," he said. "Something as simple as sidewalks can influence your health."

He participated in a study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Virginia Commonwealth University that shows in a six-county stretch of northern Mississippi, life expectancy can vary by seven years. The difference is even greater in cities such as Philadelphia, Pa., and Richmond, Va., where residents of some neighborhoods live 20 fewer years than others in the same city.

"It's a complex web of factors that influence your health," Chapman said. Some are personal lifestyle choices -- and Mississippi has the highest adult obesity and overweight rate in the nation at 71 percent and the sixth-highest rate of smoking.

Though it is crucial to eat healthy and exercise, he said, no amount of eating vegetables can counter living in a polluted area or a place with high crime rates, inadequate education and poor job opportunities.

"A lot of those are beyond any individual's control," he said.

Other statistics by World Life Expectancy and County Health Rankings show:

-- Mississippi has the highest motor-vehicle death rate in the nation at 21.3 per 100,000 people, compared with the national average of 10.3

-- Hancock County has the state's highest suicide rate, Harrison County the seventh highest and Jackson County the 13th highest. The ratio of mental-health providers to residents is extremely high in Hancock County at 1:6,560, compared with 1:630 in neighboring Harrison County.

-- The leading cause of death in Mississippi is coronary heart disease, followed by stroke; lung disease; Alzheimer's; lung cancers; hypertension; diabetes; breast cancer; influenza; and pneumonia and kidney disease.

-- Mississippi has the highest death rate for ages 15-19 at 82 per 100,000. The national average is 46.

-- Madison County has by far the state's highest cancer rate. George County is 20th, Stone County is 21st, Harrison County is 23rd, Pearl River County is 66th, Jackson County is 44th, Hancock County is 65th.

-- George County has the most deaths from lung disease and diabetes in the state.

-- In at least three Mississippi counties, 99 percent of children qualify for free lunches. In South Mississippi, 61 percent qualify in Hancock County, 60 percent in Harrison County and 54 percent in Jackson County.

The statistics show it isn't true everyone in the country has an equal opportunity for a long and healthy life, Chapman said, The goal of his study is to raise awareness of the stark differences even across short distances, and to make communities healthier.

"We don't have all the answers but we know where to start," he said. "If the problem is in the community then the solution is in the community also." Nobody wants to have seven fewer years of life because they live in Mississippi rather than Hawaii, he said. "I also don't want to have four less years of life because I was in a different county or two."

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