Like tantrumming toddlers, our legislators strut around Capitol Hill bickering over politics. It’s easy to get lost in the rhetoric and politics and lose sight of the real victims in these battles. In a distressing reminder of why the Affordable Care Act was enacted and what we stand to lose if we can’t come together as a nation, the Atlantic reported last week that the life expectancy for women is declining or stagnating in 45% of U.S. counties.
In general, mortality rates in the U.S. are decreasing, but we need to be cautious in accepting general statistics. The disparity between the mortality rates for men and those for women is a continuing cause for concern. Though the overall mortality rate is decreasing, the life expectancy of one of our vulnerable populations has shown a decline for nearly two decades.
Those whom our educational system has failed now carry the burden of the failures of our health care system as well. The overall health of people with less than 12 years of schooling is on par with the health care available sixty years ago. They do not have the benefit of a half-century of advancement. The study said:
We found that in 2008 US adult men and women with fewer than twelve years of education had life expectancies not much better than those of all adults in the 1950s and 1960s.
It is not merely a lack of education, but education has been a convenient proxy for researchers to use to mark socioeconomic factors. Not surprisingly, the answer isn’t so simple as better education and better access to healthcare. The difference in life expectancy in our female population is not evenly spread, there are specific areas where women fare worse than their compatriots. The study cited in the Atlantic indicated many factors that contribute to the difference.
Several factors, including higher education levels, not being in the South or West, and low smoking rates, were associated with lower mortality rates.
While these studies and others offer tantalizing clues to what makes a medically healthy community, many of the causes of such worrying disparities remain unknown. Scientists are rightfully reticent in making causal claims. What is clear is that it will take a dedicated effort by the U.S. public to improve overall health. As our elected officials prance and prattle pompously, the failures of our economy, our education, and our health care are robbing us of mothers, sisters, and even daughters far too often.