Obesity Rates and Life Expectancy by U.S. State

Obesity Rates and Life Expectancy by U.S. State
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The CDC has just released data on healthy life expectancy in the United States. Just as the name implies, healthy life expectancy (HLE) is the number of years you can expect to live a healthy life. For this particular study, the CDC analyzed data for people who were age 65.

The first map shows how many more healthy years beyond age 65 a person can expect to live in each U.S. state.

People in Hawaii had the best prognosis: Another 16.2 years of healthy life. (Maybe living in a tropical paradise is good for your health?) But, residents of Mississippi had the worst prognosis: Only 10.8 years of additional healthy life.

While this CDC study made no attempt to explain why different states had different health outcomes, it is tempting to speculate. Could obesity explain the discrepancy? The second map depicts obesity rates in each U.S. state.

Comparing the two maps, we can see that the states with the highest obesity rates (colored red) also have the lowest HLEs. (The only exception is Michigan.) Conversely, the states with the lowest HLEs (colored white in the first map) also have the highest obesity rates. (The exceptions are North Carolina and Georgia.)

The negative correlation between obesity and HLE applies to the entire country, as well. Below is a scatterplot, and each point represents a U.S. state. Obesity rate is plotted on the X-axis and HLE is plotted on the Y-axis.

A strong correlation exists: States with a high obesity rate can expect their residents at age 65 to have fewer healthy years of life remaining. To be sure, other factors affect HLE: lifestyle choices, education, race, access to good health care, etc. Further study will be needed to tease apart the role various risk factors play in state-specific HLEs.

The final map is particularly jarring. It shows how quickly Americans became obese.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "State-Specific Healthy Life Expectancy at Age 65 Years -- United States, 2007-2009." MMWR 62 (28): 561-566.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Overweight and Obesity." (Accessed August 5, 2013.) 

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