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Black Americans die up to 8 years sooner in some states

Life-expectancy study shows

 In every state across the country, white men and women are outliving blacks, in some cases by a margin as wide as eight years, says a new life-expectancy study from the University of California, Los Angeles.
In America, a white male born today has a life expectancy of 74.8 years, while black males are expected to live to 67.7, creating a seven-year disparity. Meanwhile, white women can expect to live to 79.8, while their black counterparts have a life expectancy five years shorter, at 74.6 years, said the UCLA report.
Overall, the life-expectancy gap nationwide seems to be narrowing slightly, according to researchers, but it continues to vary widely by state.
In Florida, the longevity gap for women is among the widest of any state, at seven years. The life expectancy here for black women is 74, while it's 80.9 for white women, said the study, which appeared in this month's issue of Health Services Research. Life expectancy is defined as how long a person born today is expected to live.
That gap is mostly because white women live longer than average in the Sunshine State, said Dr. Nazleen Bharmal, the study's lead researcher and a clinical instructor of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.
The gap for Florida men is in line with the national average: 75.2 years for white males and 67.8 for black males.
Washington, D.C., had the largest disparity between blacks and whites. at 13.8 years for men and 8.6 for women, said the researchers, who studied national death-certificate data from nearly 18 million non-Hispanic blacks and non-Hispanic whites who died from 1997 to 2004.
New Mexico had the smallest disparity between blacks and whites, at 3.8 years for men and 2.5 for women.
Bharmal warns, however, that although closing the gap is a worthy public-health goal, that shouldn't be the focus.
Where small disparities in life expectancy exist, that happens because the white populations are doing as poorly as black populations, she said.
"The goal," said Bharmal, "is not just to eliminate the disparity, but also to help both groups reach optimal life expectancy."
Florida effect
Because Florida has such a large population of non-Hispanic blacks, closing the gap here would have the greatest impact on national life-span statistics than if any other state erased its disparity.
"If you took Florida out of the equation, the gap would fall from 7.1 to 6.6 for men, and from 5.2 to 4.7 for women," Bharmal said.
According to U.S. census figures, Florida has the fourth-largest population of black men after Georgia, New York and Texas, and the third-largest population of black women behind Georgia and Texas.
Though examining differences between races is important to find and fix disparities, diversity experts say the race gap only tells part of the story.
"If you stratified for other categories like income, education or whether the person lived in a rural area or an urban environment, you would find that rates between the races get more equal," said Michael Rovito, instructor of health sciences and director of the men's-health initiative at the University of Central Florida.
"In my opinion, it's all about money and education," Rovito said.
Bharmal said her group plans to look at the effect of socioeconomic factors next.
"Preliminary data indicate that if income and education were factored in, the racial gap would shrink, but it wouldn't go away," she said.
Why blacks die sooner
Blacks die sooner than whites for a variety of reasons, experts say. Chief among the causes of death for black males are homicide and HIV. For black women, diabetes takes a heavy toll. Both groups get hit harder and sooner by heart disease.
For black males ages 15 to 30, the primary cause of death is homicide, Rovito said.
Young black men are 15 times more likely to be murdered as young white men, according to a 2010 study from Columbia University.
"Eliminating homicide would do more to equalize black and white life expectancy than eliminating any other cause of death except heart disease," the Columbia researchers wrote.
Black men also are 2.5 times more likely to die of prostate cancer than whites, a problem that could be reversed by earlier screenings and interventions, Rovito said.
Earlier detection and treatment for heart disease and cancer in the black population would make a big difference, said Dr. Lisa Barkley, assistant dean for diversity and inclusion at UCF College of Medicine.
To do that, she said, "we need to improve health literacy and stress the importance of having a good relationship with a health-care provider." She also would like to see programs focus on decreasing the burden of HIV in Florida, "which is huge," she said.
In black women, culture and lifestyle habits amp up their risk, Rovito said: "The foods they eat and their culture of exercise play a role in heart disease."

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