Just today a story broke about average life spans in America. Here’s how some in the media played it. Headline: “New Study Shows How Long You Live Depends on Where You Live.”
Briefly, the study from the Harvard School of Public Health pointed out that Asian American women living in Bergin County, New Jersey live the longest (on average 91 years). While American Indians in South Dakota had the shortest life spans, averaging just 58 years. The rest of us in other regions fall somewhere between the two extremes.
Judging by the headline, being an Asian American woman in Bergin County, New Jersey or an American Indian in South Dakota determines your fate.
But not so fast. Buried near the end of story is the important part. The researchers found that the most important contributors to earlier mortality, in order of importance, are:
- high blood pressure
- high cholesterol
- physical inactivity
So the headline was deceptive. An individual’s longevity has little to do with where he or she lives. Instead, life choices usually determine lifespan. It may be fair to discuss sociological reasons why Asian American residents of Bergin County, New Jersey make better life choices than American Indians in South Dakota. But it is life choices that account for the differences, not geography.
While we’re at it, look again at the list of contributors to early mortality. The last two on the list, diet and physical inactivity, are usually the reasons for the three early mortality factors just above them, high cholestrol, high blood pressure and obesity. That is the real story.