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Social Factors May Affect Lifespan More Than Race, Location

TUESDAY, April 17 (HealthDay News) -- A group of socioeconomic factors such as education, income and work are better indicators of your chances of living to age 70 than race or geography, a new study shows.

The findings challenge the long-held belief that race or the region of the country where you reside are the best markers of how long you may live, according to researchers from Stanford University School of Medicine in Stanford, Calif.

Previous research has found large differences in life expectancy in various regions of the United States. For example, people tend to die younger in large urban areas and in the South. A study published last year found that men in five counties in Mississippi lived an average of 66.5 years, several years less than the national average of 75.4 years for men.

Racial disparities also are a well-established factor in life expectancy. For example, a recent study found that white men live an average of about seven years longer than black men, and white women live about five years longer than black women, according to a Stanford University news release.

In the new study, the researchers examined data on the probability of survival to age 70 for people in counties across the United States. The data was initially categorized according to sex and race, but the researchers then considered how other factors affect life expectancy.

The analysis showed that when factors related to local social conditions -- such as education, income, and job and marital status -- are included, health differences based on race and region virtually disappear.

"While there is an enormous survival difference between some counties, it is the social and environmental characteristics of a given county and its population that matter the most," study first author Dr. Mark Cullen, a professor of medicine and chief of the division of general medical disciplines at Stanford, said in the news release.

"Once certain factors -- such as the fraction of adults in the county who finish high school, the fraction with managerial or professional jobs and the fraction of adults who live in two-parent households -- are accounted for, even geography, such as being in the South, is moot," he noted.

The study appears online April 17 in the journal PLoS One.

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The U.S. National Institute on Aging offers tips for healthy aging.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Stanford University, news release, April 17, 2012

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