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Originally published: 2013-09-04 17:25:57
Last modified: 2013-09-04 17:27:34

Healthy, long life: CDC findings show lower numbers in the South

by Sherrie Norris

Healthy life expectancy. We hope it's a long one, right?

The term is relatively new and getting more attention as the "aging of America," the "boomers" and the "sandwich generation" continue to occupy national headlines.  

Recent findings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention detailed facts about healthy life expectancy by state and were calculated for persons 65 years by gender (female/male) and race (white/black). 

Jennifer Greene, director of Allied Health Services at the Appalachian District Health Department in Boone, said that, overall, healthy life expectancy was estimated in the CDC study as "generally less in the south" when compared with the rest of the United States, and females had a longer healthy life expectancy than males. 

"Notably, healthy life expectancy was greater for whites than blacks in all states," she said. " In North Carolina, the life expectancy at age 65 was 18.6 additional years, while healthy life expectancy was 12.7 years." 

"Life expectancy, or the years we can expect to live," Greene said, "is a critical measuring stick for how we are doing as a society in supporting longer lives through prevention, education and other technological advances."

 "Similar, yet quite different," she said, "is healthy life expectancy, which is a measure that tells us how many healthy life years you can expect."

Where you live in the United States shouldn't determine how long and how healthy you live, "but it does, far more than it should," said CDC Director Tom Frieden. "Not only do people in certain states, and African-Americans live shorter lives, they also live a greater proportion of their last years in poor health. It will be important moving forward to support prevention programs that make it easier for people to be healthy no matter where they live."

For all adults at 65, the highest healthy living expectancy was observed in Hawaii (16.2 years) and the lowest was in Mississippi (10.8 years). By race, its estimates for whites were lowest among Southern states. For blacks, the expectancy was comparatively low throughout the U.S., except in Nevada and New Mexico. 

Healthy life expectancy was greater for females than for males in all states, with the difference ranging from 0.7 years in Louisiana 

This data, provided through the CDC study, Greene says, "is valuable to better understand the health of the overall population, and help identify gaps in providing community supports or services that promote healthy living." 

The county health rankings are based on "the chief factors" that help predict our healthy life expectancy, Greene said -- safe and healthy living environments, such as safe places to walk and access to healthy foods, healthy behaviors, including exercise and not smoking; getting recommended clinical preventive services, such as vaccines, blood pressure checks and cancer screenings, and having access to quality healthcare when it is needed.  

Listing Watauga County in eighth place (out of 100) in 2010, Greene said those CDC rankings now have Watauga up to No. 3 in 2013. 

Continuing to improve Watauga

"Partnerships may be a key step toward making a stronger community with people living healthier longer lives," Greene said. "Appalachian District Health Department is forging partnerships across the community in developing increased healthy eating, active living, tobacco-free living, and preventive community supports with clinicians through the Northwest Community Transformation Project, funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

"We see extraordinary opportunity in community partnerships. While we are working with partners, so are others. The partnerships with Watauga Substance Abuse Prevention, Blue Ridge Seeds of Change and High Country Vision Council are other great examples of people who want to take the next step to support a vibrant community," said Jennifer Greene, director of Allied Health Services. 

For more information about Appalachian District Health Department or other health resources, tips, reports and links, visit or contact the Watauga County office of the Appalachian District Health Department at (828) 264-4995.