Women's life expectancies are falling in many areas of the US, possibly as a result of smoking and obesity. But amid this decline, Latina women are unusually healthy.
According to the LA Times, women's life expectancy is still rising in America as a whole. But in a lot of places it's fallen since 1997 — especially in parts of the South and lower Midwest. Experts blame smoking — women who started smoking in the 1950s may be getting lung cancer now — and complications of obesity. Poor women fared worse than wealthier ones, but there are exceptions. Immigrant communities seem to have longer life expectancies than others of comparable socioeconomic status, and Latina women live especially long.
This last is an interesting finding, especially in a country that suffers from widening disparities in health and longevity. What's protecting Latina women from the problems that plague other groups? Carmen Nevarez, former president of the American Public Health Assn., tells the LA Times that Latino immigrants who reach America are a self-selecting group: "These are not random people. They are the healthiest people who could get here." But that doesn't explain why people who come here from Latin America live longer than immigrants from elsewhere. David Hayes-Bautista of UCLA's Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture thinks anything from robust social support to physical labor could play a role.
One thing the longevity numbers point to is the role of culture. For instance, a group of Rocky Mountain counties have seen rising life expectancies as outdoorsy people move there for adventure. Of course, these people usually have money, but that's only part of the story — Dr. Christopher Murray, head of the organization that conducted the life expectancy research, says "they can actually change the environment and the community's values." The news about women's falling life expectancies clearly underscores the need for greater economic equality in America. But it also shows the importance of networks, and of helping people work together to ensure better health for all.
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