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Life Expectancy Continues to Vary Among Whites and Blacks Across America

Update Date: Aug 05, 2014 11:10 AM EDT

Due to several factors, such as income, access to care and education, many researchers have found huge disparities in quality of health care and mortality risk between white and black Americans. In a new study, researchers examined the life expectancy rates between these two races. They found that even though the differences in the life expectancy rate between whites and blacks have declined nationally, the rates for both races continue to vary throughout the nation.

For this study, the researchers from McGill University calculated the life expectancy rates for whites and blacks within each state from 1990 to 2009 The team had analyzed death certificates and used statistical techniques to estimate life expectancies in each state. Other studies have already concluded that the national difference between life expectancies of the two races had fallen. This study found that even though the overall difference is lower, each state's progress in reducing that difference varied greatly.

"Some states have clearly done much better than others. For example, we found large improvements in New York, but the gap actually increased in Wisconsin. More generally, we found that states in the Northeast made considerably more progress than states in the West for both men and women, but even within regions of the U.S. there was a lot of heterogeneity among states," study's first author, Sam Harper, of the Department of Epidemiology, Biostatistics & Occupational Health in the Faculty of Medicine, stated according to the press release.

The researchers reported that New York made the largest contribution to the decline in the national life expectancy rates between blacks and whites. The team found that the state was capable of reducing the death rates tied to HIV/AIDS and homicide. Other states, especially those with large black populations, however, have not made as much progress. The researchers concluded that more has to be done to reduce the racial gap.

"We want to know how to reduce these differences. Given that many social and health policies are implemented at the state level, looking at how specific states have fared can provide important clues for addressing these health inequalities. Our results should be of particular interest to state public health officials focused on reducing racial differences in health," Harper stated.

The study was published in the journal, Health Affairs.

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