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Life Expectancy Varies Widely Between Arizona Counties

A study on life expectancy shows “big extremes” between Arizona counties, with residents of some counties likely to live more than seven years longer than residents in others.

The report from the Institute of Health Metrics Evaluation at the University of Washington also said Arizona was one of only four states to see life expectancy in some counties decrease while most others in the state increased over a 20-year span.

“Arizona is a state with big extremes,” Ali Mokdad, the lead researcher in the study’s U.S. county performance team, wrote in an email.

“In La Paz . . . life expectancy has gone down for men by one full year right next to a county, Yuma, that has gone up by more than eight years in life expectancy,” Mokdad wrote. “This simply should not be the case.”

The report compared life expectancy by county across the country, in 1987, 1997 and 2007. It said life expectancy in the U.S. ranged from 65.9 to 81.1 years for men and 73.5 to 86 years for women in 2007; the statewide average for Arizona was 76.7 for men and 81.8 for women that year.

The authors and state health officials said the gaps between counties in Arizona could be attributed to the availability of health care in the counties and differences in residents’ lifestyles.

The report’s authors pointed to obesity, smoking cigarettes and other preventable factors to explain the difference between life expectancy in the U.S. and other countries. Those factors were cited by state officials for the disparities within Arizona.

Jeanette Shea, the assistant director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, said the authors were “right on” in their commentary. She said the life expectancy numbers are indicative of smoking cigarettes and obesity rates in the respective counties.

From Apache County in Arizona’s upper northeast to Yuma County in the southwest, there is more than a seven-year difference in life expectancy for men, according to the report. That gap grew markedly since 1987.

In Apache County, men’s life expectancy was 70.8 years in 2007, about a year higher than it was when the study began in 1987. The report claims that male life expectancy in Yuma County grew by more than eight years, to 78 years in 2007.

According to the state health department, about 15 percent of Apache County residents smoked in 2010, compared to 11.51 percent of Yuma residents.

Gila and Mohave counties, which have the highest smoking cigarettes rates in the state at 22 percent and 23 percent, respectively, fall in the bottom five counties for life expectancy for men and women.

Arizona Department of Health Services Director Will Humble compared the varied quality of health from county to county to that of Colorado and Kentucky. It’s not that one state or county has better health services, although they might, he said, it’s because some people “take better care of themselves.”

“Mohave County is kind of our Kentucky and Yuma is our Colorado,” Humble said.

Mohave County Health Director Patty Mead said the numbers reflect numerous factors plaguing the county, including low-income and high-unemployment rates. Health concerns include diabetes and smoking cigarettes.

“The county does see a number of people engaging in unhealthy behaviors,” Mead said.

The report’s authors propose that state and local policymakers “use the life-expectancy data and the county comparisons to tailor strategies to fit the dynamics of their communities.” Humble said his department would do just that.

“We’ll use this information for marketing efforts to identify target areas through the state,” Humble said.


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