A college writing class was discussing the pitfalls of jumbled phrases and their potential to confuse the reader — brain-teasers that included “Is there a 4th of July in England?” and “Why can’t a man living in the United States be buried in Canada?”
The answers, of course, are “Yes, there is — along with every other date in July”; and “Because you shouldn’t bury a living man anywhere.” The answers would be vastly different if the questions were “Does England celebrate American Independence Day?” and “Can a man who lived and died in the United States be buried in Canada?”
Then another query took this grammatical exercise on an alternate track: “How many birthdays does the average man have?” The guesses ranged from 70 up to 80, but most of the students agreed that the average life expectancy in the U.S. is about 72 years.
But the simple answer — “The average man has only one birthday, which is the day he was born” — couldn’t ignore the complexity of the guesses that were incorrect on more than one level. The fact is that U.S. life expectancy not only varies from state to state but also county to county and ZIP code to ZIP code. It is also generally true that women live longer than men, and life expectancy is lower in minority populations.
In one measure of these disparities, the 2019 National Vital Statistics Reports found that life expectancy for the U.S. population was 78.8 years — but variations from that included 81.4 for females, 76.3 for males, 74.8 for Blacks and 71.8 for Native American and Alaska natives.
In another measure that illustrates the local variations, a 2015 U.S. Census-tract study by NYU Langone Health found a decade-wide gap between life expectancies in neighboring ZIP codes in Waukegan, Illinois: 85.9 years in 60031 — home to estate-style properties on the city’s far west side — and 75.3 in a tract of 60085 with apartment complexes just across the Tri-State Tollway.
These disparities are among the challenges to regional wellness that will be addressed by RFU’s new Michael Reese Research and Education Foundation Center for Health Equity Research, the formation of which is detailed in this research edition of Helix. The search for answers to health inequity — and brain disease and PTSD among 9/11 first responders and other challenges — begins with the academic inquiry that separates informed knowledge from casual assumptions.
Dan Moran is the communications director with RFU’s Division of Marketing and Brand Management.