EAST TEXAS (KTRE) - A new study published in February 2019 claims to have broken down life expectancy in the state of Texas by gender and ethnicity down to the ZIP code and county levels.
“It’s very different depending on where you live in the state and your ethnicity,” said Dr. David Lakey, Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs for the University of Texas system. “There’s significant disparities in the state of Texas, but when we only look at state-level information, or even county-level information, you don’t have the granularity of the data to really make good decisions.”
Overall life expectancy in Texas is 78.5 years, according to Texas DSHS, which means that on average a child born in Texas on Jan. 1, 2019, can expect to live until spring 2097. However, the mapping tool provided by UT Southwestern Medical Center revealed that many areas of Texas, even down to the county level, may have significant differences between life expectancy.
“The magnitude of the disparities catches my attention. In some areas, people live very long, but in other zip codes, people live pretty short lives,” Lakey explained. “There’s a 26-year difference between zip codes in the state.”
Lakey said the purpose of the data was to drive down to the zip code so that anyone could look zip code by zip code, narrowing down to ethnicity, and see how well your chaces are to live a healthy life in the area you chose.
“Overall disparities by gender or racial groups are significant, but to truly impact health we need to understand where the disparities are most severe, and to recognize that there is immense geographic variation even within groups," said Lakey.
For example, Lakey pointed out that in some zip codes, the African American and Hispanic populations live long, healthy lives. In other zip codes, sometimes neighboring said zip code, lifespans are significantly different. Lakey said the information helps health officials figure out how to improve health in the state of Texas.
In Nacogdoches County the average life expectancy is over 75 years old, but blacks have a 66 life expectancy range.
Neighboring San Augustine and Shelby Counties are in an entirely different category with much shorter life expectancy, attributed primarily to poverty.
The study reminds users life expectancy is based on statistics. The information is designed to encourage healthier lifestyles, but it can provide valuable data to help with intervention decisions.
Healthy Nacogdoches Coalition sees it as a resource tool in deciding the focus of its education efforts.
Kim Barton with Healthy Nacogdoches Coalition said, “This new interactive gives us a place to start and place of reference for our messaging.”
But could the message be falling on deaf ears? Nacogdoches County Health Authority Dr. William Hairston bases his opinion on years of recommendations to patients.
“They continue to smoke. They have more emphysema. That causes more heart disease and cancer, so really they aren’t learning,” said Hairston.
Scientists who developed the zip code map will still call it a break thru for improving the health in Texas.
“The key point is your zip code in many ways can be more important than your genetic code," Lakey said. "The combination of ethnicity and zip code really have a profound impact on your overall health.”
Highlights from the study (according to UT Southwestern Medical Center):
- Life expectancy was longest – 97.0 years – in the 78634 ZIP code in Hutto, Texas (near Austin) and was shortest – 66.7 years – in the 76104 ZIP code in Fort Worth.
- Overall, life expectancy in Texas varied as much as 30 years between ZIP codes.
- Women’s overall life expectancy was 5.2 years longer than men’s.
- Hispanic, black, and white women had longer life expectancy than their male counterparts.
- Hispanic life expectancy was 3 years longer than white life expectancy and 5.9 years longer than black life expectancy.
- Life expectancy was strongly associated with poverty: Those living in ZIP codes with less than 5 percent poverty lived an average of 82.4 years, whereas those living in ZIP codes with more than 20 percent poverty lived an average of 76.4 years.