Community factors influence how long you'll live

March 18, 2020
Burger

WHERE you live and your lifestyle choices would predict your longevity.

According to a new study, certain community characteristics play important role on a person’s longevity.

The “westernized lifestyle” of Filipinos (more fast food restaurants around and eating hamburgers, fries and pizzas), a larger share of extraction industry-based jobs, or higher population density have shorter life expectancies.

Life expectancy refers to the length of time a person born in a given year can expect to live.

Researchers from Penn State, West Virginia, and Michigan State universities developed a statistical model to determine the relationship between a dozen community variables and each county's 2014 life expectancy, while controlling for personal variables that are known to be important, such as sex, race, education, single-parent status, obesity, and alcohol use.

The community variables they examined included health care access, population growth and density, fast food restaurants, healthy food access, employment by sector, urbanization, and social capital, which measures the networks and bonds providing social cohesion among residents.

They looked at each variable in isolation while holding others constant, allowing them to determine which variables independently exert the strongest effect on life expectancy.

"When we controlled for historical life expectancy, we found three additional community factors that each exert a significant negative effect -- a greater number of fast food restaurants, higher population density, and a greater share of jobs in mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction," Dobis said. "For example, for every one percentage point increase in the number of fast food restaurants in a county, life expectancy declined by .004 years for men and .006 years for women”.

The research, which was published recently in Social Science and Medicine, also revealed several community factors that are positively related to life expectancy, including a growing population, good access to physicians, and a greater level of social cohesion.

"We were surprised by the strong positive contribution of social capital to life expectancy within communities," said NERCRD Director Stephan Goetz, professor of agricultural economics and regional economics at Penn State and a co-author on the study. "Places with residents who stick together more on a community or social level also appear to do a better of job of helping people in general live longer."

"Another interesting finding was that lower population density, or living in more rural areas, is associated with higher life expectancy," Goetz said. "This suggests that living in large, densely-settled metropolitan areas, with all of their amenities and other advantages, comes at the expense of lower life expectancy, at least in a statistical sense."

In addition to being the first life-expectancy study to include community variables in a county-level analysis, this also was the first study to statistically analyze the extent to which disparities in life expectancy are geographically clustered. This analysis revealed some striking patterns.

The team's findings have important policy implications, as they suggest that certain aspects of the built environment can be changed to enhance life expectancy. For example, public places that promote social interaction could increase a community's social capital levels, which in turn promote longer lifespans.

(ScienceDaily)