Posted March 24, 2008 – Living poor is increasingly more deadly than living affluently, according to new government numbers.
The difference in how poor people live vs. the rich has almost doubled over an 18-year period, The New York Times is reporting.
U.S. residents at top income levels can expect to live an average of 4.5 years longer than the poorest Americans – 79.2 years vs. 74.7 years, according to new figures from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Healthy People 2010 project. One of the stated goals of the project is to “eliminate health disparities among different segments of the population,” including the rich and the poor and people of different ethnic and racial groups.
The newly released data is based on information the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gathered in 1998-2000. It mirrors statistics gathered from 1980-82, which also showed a dramatic increase in the longevity disparity between the richest and poorest Americans. That gap was 2.8 years – 75.8 vs. 73.
“The growing inequalities in life expectancy” mirrored trends in infant mortality and in death from heart disease and certain cancers, one of the researchers, Gopal K. Singh, a demographer at the Department of Health and Human Services, told the Times. The difference between poor Black men and affluent White women was more than 14 years (66.9 years vs. 81.1 years).
“If you look at the extremes in 2000,” Dr. Singh said, “men in the most deprived counties had 10 years’ shorter life expectancy than women in the most affluent counties (71.5 years versus 81.3 years).”
Why is this gap widening, despite advances in medical knowledge and more treatment options?
Medical experts give these explanations, among others: Better-educated, more affluent people can take advantage of the latest advances in heart disease and cancer treatment than the poor.
Better-educated, more affluent people smoke less than poorer people. Poorer people are exposed to unhealthier food and more dangerous living conditions, than better-educated, affluent people, they said. Poorer people are also less likely to have health insurance and less likely to receive checkups and engage in measures to prevent the onset of some diseases.
Even among people who have insurance, many studies have documented racial differences. In a recent report, the Department of Veterans Affairs found that Black patients “tend to receive less aggressive medical care than Whites” at its hospitals and clinics, in part because doctors provide them with less information and see them as “less appropriate candidates” for some types of surgery.
A recent study by Ellen R. Meara, a health economist at Harvard Medical School, found that in the 1980s and 1990s, “virtually all gains in life expectancy occurred among highly educated groups.” Trends in smoking explain a large part of the widening gap, she said in an article this month in the journal Health Affairs.
In the government's fifth annual legally mandated health disparities report, the Bush administration said, “Overall, disparities in quality and access for minority groups and poor populations have not been reduced” since the first report, in 2003. The rate of new AIDS cases is still 10 times as high among Blacks as Whites, it said, and the proportion of Black children hospitalized for asthma is almost four times the rate for White children.
The Democratic candidates for president, Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois, have championed legislation to reduce such disparities, as have some Republicans, like Senator Thad Cochran of Mississippi.
Check here for more on the health disparities report.