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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Live in Eagle County and live longer, better

This valley has one of the nation's longest life expectancies
by, Randy Wyrick
Vail Daily, 7/26/2011

In Eagle County, we live longer and we live better than almost anyone else in the United States.

Eagle County men can expect to live to 79.1 years old, up from 72.8 in 1987.

Eagle County women will live to 83.1, up from 79.6 in 1987.

That's longer than almost any place else in the country, and almost as long as anywhere on earth, according to a study from the University of Washington.

“We live a long time because of our healthy behaviors. It prevents chronic diseases and death from things like lung cancer that results from smoking and obesity that results from eating too much, eating badly and never exercising,” says Rebecca Larson, who handles public health for Eagle County's Health and Human Services department.

And we seem to be getting healthier faster than almost anyone else, the study found.

The rates of improvement for Eagle County men are the best in Colorado.

In Eagle County:

Only 14 percent use tobacco, compared to 19 percent statewide.

Only 13 percent are obese, compared to 19 percent statewide, and Colorado has the lowest obesity rate in the nation.

Thirty five percent of Eagle County adults report that they get their five servings of fruits and veggies per day, compared to 25 percent statewide.

Because we have a low obesity and smoking rate, we have low incidence of heart disease and diabetes, the kind of stuff that can lead to an early grave.

“We're getting outside, getting some exercise, eating fruits and vegetables. That affects our low obesity rate,” Larson says. “I wasn't surprised for our county. We're focused on recreation. There has been an effort to promote healthy eating and a healthy lifestyle, and I think that will continue.”

The University of Washington study looked at more than 3,000 counties across the United States. Eagle County ranked 27th in life expectancy in the nation. Eagle County men ranked 37th.

The only Colorado counties higher were Larimer for men, Summit for men, Pitkin and Douglas and Gunnison counties for both men and women.

Between 1987-2007, Eagle County's life expectancy improved 6.3 years, more than almost anyone in the country.

Pitkin County boasts a top-10 life expectancy — 84.2 years for women, 80 for men.

Douglas County men had the fifth-highest life expectancy in the nation. Fairfax County, Va., has the highest lifespans for men, while Collier, Fla., has the highest for women.

Colorado the most active state
Colorado is the most active state in the nation, and Eagle County one of the most active counties.

Only 11.6 percent of Eagle County people are considered inactive.

Steve Russell, director of the Western Eagle County Metropolitan Recreation District, said he's not surprised.

“Colorado is a great place to live, and people move here to be active and outdoors,” Russell said. “If you compared our native population to other states, the gap might be smaller. But people move here because they want to be active in the environment.”

“It's the opportunities we have to be active,” said Jamie Gunion, marketing director with the Vail Recreation District.

It's a lifetime range of activities, Gunion said.

“So much of what we do is based on the great outdoors and everything we have to enjoy here in the valley,” she said. “We have golf courses, there's the mountain bike series, trail running series; the day camps are designed to help young people be active.”

Nationwide disparity
The most current county-level analysis finds large disparities nationwide. Women fare worse than men in improving their life expectancies, and people in Appalachia, the Deep South, and Northern Texas live the shortest lives.

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, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington.

Researchers found that between 2000 and 2007, more than 80 percent of U.S. counties fell, compared to the average of the 10 nations with the best life expectancies in the world.

“We are finally able to answer the question of how the U.S. fares in comparison to its peers globally,” said Dr. Christopher Murray, IHME Director and one of the paper's co-authors. “Despite the fact that the U.S. spends more per capita than any other nation on health, eight out of every 10 counties are not keeping pace in terms of health outcomes. That's a staggering statistic.”

The researchers suggest that the relatively low life expectancies in the U.S. cannot be explained by the size of the nation, racial diversity, or economics. Instead, the authors point to high rates of obesity, tobacco use, and other preventable risk factors for an early death as the leading drivers of the gap between the U.S. and other nations.

Five counties in Mississippi have the lowest life expectancies for women, all below 74.5 years, putting them behind nations such as Honduras, El Salvador and Peru. Four of those counties, along with Humphreys County, Miss., have the lowest life expectancies for men, all below 67 years, meaning they are behind Brazil, Latvia and the Philippines.

Women live the longest in Collier, Fla., at 86 years on average, better than France, Switzerland and Spain. Men live the longest in Fairfax County, VA, at 81.1 years, which is higher than life expectancies in Japan and Australia. Women are also living long lives in Teton, Wyo.; San Mateo and Marin, Calif.; and Montgomery, Md. For men, long life spans also can be found in Marin, Calif.; Montgomery, Md.; Santa Clara, Calif.; and Douglas, Colo.

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