New life expectancy data can add context
to reporting on local health

A new data release today from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation gives journalists some unique tools to help depict the health of a local population.

Emmanuela Gakidou, M.Sc., Ph.D., the director of education and training for IHME, told a Health Journalism 2010 audience that the institute was working on a project to show health information to the county level.life-expectancy

Just over a year later, the data allow the user to analyze life expectancy for every county in the United States and compare those numbers worldwide.

For example, the data could add context for a journalist following up on a tip from a speaker in an entirely different AHCJ event. In the recent Rural Health Journalism Workshop in St. Louis, Ellen Barnidge, Ph.D., M.P.H., of St. Louis University, discussed efforts in Missouri’s high-poverty Pemiscot County. A quick filter of the spreadsheet data shows men in that county share the same life expectancy – 68.5 – with Mauritius and Indonesia.

The data go back to 1987, allowing a journalist to look at changes over time as well for more than 3,000 counties.

Project researchers found that, while people in Japan, Canada and other nations are enjoying significant gains in life expectancy every year, most counties within the United States are falling behind.

The researchers, in collaboration with researchers at Imperial College London, found that between 2000 and 2007, more than 80 percent of counties fell in standing against the average of the 10 nations with the best life expectancies in the world, known as the international frontier.

Women have been especially affected. More than 850 counties in the U.S. have seen life expectancy remain static or go backwards for women since 1997.

The data also offers a breakdown of life expectancy by selected race – black and white – for each county.

The institute is an independent global research center at the University of Washington providing sound measurement of population health and the factors that determine health, as well as rigorous evaluation of health system and health program performance.

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