Significant Disparities in US Life Expectancy Found at Census Tract Level | News
For immediate release: July 13, 2020
Boston, MA – Life expectancy in the United States varies widely when analyzed at the census tract level and the method may provide a more detailed picture of health disparities in the United States than other analyzes widely used life expectancy, according to new research by Harvard School of Public Health TH Chan. The study is the first to analyze life expectancy data at the census tract level across the contiguous United States, as well as at the state and county level.
the results were published online July 13, 2020 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
“Our study shows that when it comes to geographic variation in life expectancy, it’s quite a local phenomenon,” said S (Subu) V Subramanian, professor of population health and geography and co-author of the study. “States are also very important, but counties are not.”
Data on many public health indicators, including life expectancy, is often collected and analyzed at the county or state level. This is important because legislation, policies and programs that provide health care, economic relief and social services are administered and implemented at both levels. However, focusing on counties or states may not highlight important health disparities at the local level.
For this study, the research team analyzed life expectancy data from 65,662 census tracts nested in 3,020 counties in 48 states. Census tracts are small geographic units with populations generally ranging from 1,200 to 8,000.
The analysis identified significant disparities in life expectancy at the census tract level within counties and states. For example, at the county level, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania has a life expectancy of 77.4 years. But the researchers found the county contained one census tract with a life expectancy of 62 years and another census tract with a life expectancy of 86 years, a difference of 24 years. Similarly, at the county level, Chatham County, North Carolina has a life expectancy of 80.4 years. But it contained a census tract with a life expectancy of 76.2 years and a census tract with a life expectancy of 97.5 years, a difference of 21 years.
The researchers also found that socioeconomic and demographic variables, particularly education, income, and race, were strongly associated with life expectancy at the census tract level. Analysis of life expectancy and other public health data at the census tract level can help shed light on important local health disparities and develop better and more targeted public health interventions. . Strategiesaccording to the researchers.
“Looking at the census tract level, we found large disparities within counties in the United States,” said Antonio Fernando Boing, researcher in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences and co-author of the study. “Furthermore, we observed that socioeconomic conditions explain a significant portion of the variation between census tracts. These results reinforce the importance of small geographic units when allocating resources and implementing policies aimed at increasing life expectancy in the United States.
Other Harvard Chan School researchers who contributed to the study Alexandra Crispim Boing, Jack Cordes and Rockli Kim.
The National Council for Scientific Development (CNPq) has granted financial resources (205120/2018-0).
“Quantifying and Explaining Variation in Life Expectancy at the Census Tract, County, and State Levels in the United States”, Antonio Fernando Boing, Alexandra Crispim Boing, Jack Cordes, Rockli Kim, SV Subramanian, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, online July 13, 2020, doi: 10.1073/pnas.2003719117.
Photo: Hyejin Kang
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Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health brings together dedicated experts from many disciplines to educate new generations of global health leaders and generate powerful ideas that improve the lives and health of people everywhere. As a community of leading scientists, educators and students, we work together to bring innovative ideas from the lab to people’s lives, not only achieving scientific breakthroughs, but also working to change the individual behaviors, public policies and health care practices. Each year, more than 400 Harvard Chan School faculty members teach more than 1,000 full-time students from around the world and train thousands more through online and executive education courses. Founded in 1913 as the Harvard-MIT School of Health Officers, the school is recognized as America’s oldest professional public health training program.