Marni Jameson, Orlando Sentinel, February 29, 2012
In every state across the country, white men and women are outliving blacks, in some cases by a margin as wide as eight years, says a new life-expectancy study from the University of California, Los Angeles.
In America, a white male born today has a life expectancy of 74.8 years, while black males are expected to live to 67.7, creating a seven-year disparity. Meanwhile, white women can expect to live to 79.8, while their black counterparts have a life expectancy five years shorter, at 74.6 years, said the UCLA report.
Overall, the life-expectancy gap nationwide seems to be narrowing slightly, according to researchers, but it continues to vary widely by state.
[Lead researcher Dr. Nazleen] Bharmal warns, however, that although closing the gap is a worthy public-health goal, that shouldn’t be the focus.
Where small disparities in life expectancy exist, that happens because the white populations are doing as poorly as black populations, she said.
“The goal,” said Bharmal, “is not just to eliminate the disparity, but also to help both groups reach optimal life expectancy.”
Though examining differences between races is important to find and fix disparities, diversity experts say the race gap only tells part of the story.
“If you stratified for other categories like income, education or whether the person lived in a rural area or an urban environment, you would find that rates between the races get more equal,” said Michael Rovito, instructor of health sciences and director of the men’s-health initiative at the University of Central Florida.
“In my opinion, it’s all about money and education,” Rovito said.
Bharmal said her group plans to look at the effect of socioeconomic factors next.
“Preliminary data indicate that if income and education were factored in, the racial gap would shrink, but it wouldn’t go away,” she said.
Blacks die sooner than whites for a variety of reasons, experts say. Chief among the causes of death for black males are homicide and HIV. For black women, diabetes takes a heavy toll. Both groups get hit harder and sooner by heart disease.
For black males ages 15 to 30, the primary cause of death is homicide, Rovito said.
Young black men are 15 times more likely to be murdered as young white men, according to a 2010 study from Columbia University.
Black men also are 2.5 times more likely to die of prostate cancer than whites, a problem that could be reversed by earlier screenings and interventions, Rovito said.
In black women, culture and lifestyle habits amp up their risk, Rovito said: “The foods they eat and their culture of exercise play a role in heart disease.”