ATLANTA — Girls born in 2009 in Edgefield and Barnwell counties in South Carolina can expect to live shorter lives than girls born just 10 years earlier, putting them among more than 600 counties nationwide that saw no improvement or even regress in life expectancy, according to data released Thursday.
The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington released a county-by-county look at life expectancy from 1989 to 2009.
While men made some improvement, women overall made little headway and in 661 counties since 1999 either made no progress or life expectancy dropped, although women still live longer than men.
In one-third of Georgia counties, life expectancy for women stagnated or dropped. In Richmond and Columbia counties, life expectancy among men and women increased during the 20-year time period.
“In many counties, for women, life expectancy is going backward, or if it is moving, it is stagnating,” said Dr. Ali Mokdad, a professor of global health at the institute.
In Barnwell County, the life expectancy for women dropped from 77.2 years in 1999 to 76.5 years in 2009; Edgefield County women dropped slightly from 77.6 to 77.5 years in that same period.
The culprit is likely “risk factors” like smoking, Mokdad said.
Lung cancer deaths are declining steadily for men but in women “it has not declined,” Mokdad said, “probably because the peak smoking period for women occurred after men.”
Diabetes and obesity are also likely suspects but data show that even when women get help, they are less likely than men to be able to control chronic problems like high blood pressure, he said.
Despite spending 16.2 percent of Gross Domestic Product on health care, the most of any country, the United States has not seen the kinds of gains in life expectancy that other countries are enjoying, Mokdad said.
“We are doing poorly compared to everyone else in the world,” he said, when compared to similar nations.
The institute puts out county-level numbers to spur on local leaders and, Mokdad said, there is a need to fund innovative local strategies to combat those factors dragging down the numbers. “Public health is local,” he said.
Staff writer Sandy Hodson contributed to this article