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Between 1960 and 2000, life expectancy in the United States has generally increased by 7 years for men and 6 years for women.  However, a new study published by the Public Library of Science found a steady increase of mortality among women and the poor between 1983 and 1999.  The study determined areas with poor education, inadequate access to health care, low income rates and unhealthy lifestyle choices saw dramatic decreases in life expectancy.

The change in life expectancy is not necessarily surprising given the segments of society experiencing a decreased life expectancy. The real problem identified by this study is that the people in America without access to proper nutrition, health care and education are dying earlier than the rest of society. Obesity is also a contributor to early death, with our nation struggling to figure out how best to handle this health care epidemic.

The results from the study also demonstrated a leveling or decrease in overall life expectancy for twenty percent of women since the late 1908’s. During the same period of time, only four percent of men experienced the same leveling or decrease in life expectancy. For women, there were noted increases in death related to diabetes, lung cancer and kidney failure. All of these conditions indicate increased complications related to smoking, with women increasing their use of cigarettes long after men did. Therefore, these results likely demonstrate the long term health risks associated with a significantly increased smoking habit among women.

But what can, or should, be done about this recent study? Is there anything we can do to improve longevity during our lifetime? The answer lies in better access to health care, including nutrition counseling and availability of healthy foods, increasing educational levels for the poorest members of society, and working to decrease the number of smokers overall. Some of these things can be accomplished on an individual level. However, access to better health care can only be done by spending additional money. Given the current economic situation, there is a low likelihood change on this front will be achieved in the near future.

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