A deeper look at lagging life expectancy in the U.S.
The average life expectancy in the United States, over time.
June 15th, 2011
04:54 PM ET

A deeper look at lagging life expectancy in the U.S.

You may have read that many counties in the United States lag behind some of the top nations of the world in terms of life expectancy and, especially for women, it doesn't appear to be substantially increasing over time.

The United States consistently falls behind other industrialized countries in this department, despite spending more on health care than any other nation.

Experts point to smoking and obesity as possible explanations. In fact, Columbia University's Frank Lichtenberg told CNN in 2009 that "Americans would be living six months longer today than they currently are if obesity had not increased as much as it has since 1991."

Here's a deeper look at some of this new life expectancy data, which comes from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, in Seattle:

The worst counties for men had similar or lower life expectancies than countries such as Guatemala, Fiji, El Salvador, Lithuania and Pakistan.


1. Holmes County, Mississippi (65.9 years)
2. Quitman County, Mississippi (66 years)
3. Tunica County, Mississippi (66 years)
4. McDowell County, West Virginia (66.3 years)
5. Humphreys County, Mississippi (66.5 years)

The most discouraging part of the report seems to be for women. Study authors found that since 1997, women's life expectancy has slipped or failed to rise in more than 850 counties. For men, it was 84 counties. And in the counties that are the worst for women, life expectancy is comparable to or below countries such as Paraguay, Ukraine, Guatemala and Algeria.


1. Holmes County, Mississippi (73.5 years)
2. Sunflower County, Mississippi (73.6 years)
3. Humphreys County, Mississippi (74.1 years)
4. Quitman County, Mississippi (74.1 years)
5. Sharkey County, Mississippi (74.1 years

The report wasn't all bad news. It turns out that men in a handful of counties in the United States actually have a longer life expectancy than men in any nation of the world.


1. Fairfax County, Virginia (81.1 years)
2. Marin County, California (80.8 years)
3. Montgomery County, Maryland (80.7 years)
4. Santa Clara County, California (80.6 years)
5. Douglas County, Colorado (80.3 years)

Men in those places live longer, on average, than men in Iceland, who live to be 80.2 years on average.

No U.S. county surpasses Japanese women's life expectancy of 86.2, which is the highest in the world. The closest county in the United States is Collier County, Florida, at 86 years. Here are the top five counties for women:


1. Collier County, Florida (86 years)
2. Teton County, Wyoming (84.7 years)
3. San Mateo County, California (84.5 years)
4. Marin County, California (84.5 years)
5. Montgomery County, Maryland (84.5 years)

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.