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PAINTER: Life expectancy can vary by where you live

• Dec 24, 2018 at 2:00 PM

Does where you live determine how long you will live?

According to an article in the Detroit News, where you live does factor in lifespans. Life expectancy also fluctuates wildly in Michigan, according to the News. For example, the News reported that residents of one East Grand Rapids neighborhood have a life expectancy of 92 years compared to just 62 years in one Detroit area.

The average life expectancy in Michigan is 78.2 years, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. The same study shows the life expectancy in Ottawa County is 80.7 years, or 2.5 years longer than the state average.

According to the World Health Organization, Japan has the highest life expectancy rate at 83.7 years. The U.S. ranks 31st at 70.3 years.

The News, quoted from The Associated Press, wrote that analysis found that certain demographic qualities — high rates of employment, low income, a concentration of black or Native American residents, and a low rate of high school education — affected life expectancy in most neighborhoods. Those neighborhoods with higher incomes also have higher life expectancy rates.

I’m not surprised that the life expectancy rate in Ottawa County is higher than average. We are fortunate to live in a community that offers such a high quality of life. In fact, Ottawa County has been named the healthiest county in Michigan four years in a row by the U.S. News and Report. Their findings are based on medical care, jobs, housing and education.

My family has lived in Ottawa County for a long time, the longest place my wife, Marilyn, and I have lived since we’ve been married. We fell in love with this area’s educational and recreational opportunities. The miles and miles of bicycle/pedestrian paths and numerous county parks make this area a great place to live.

Unfortunately, some neighborhoods aren’t as fortunate, thus explaining the reason for lower-than-average life expectancy rates. Residents in some Detroit neighborhoods have high unemployment and many people without health insurance. They are also saddled with inferior educational opportunities.

According to the article, lowest life expectancy is in a southside Detroit community where there are many boarded-up or burned-out homes. The News said the median income there is $21,806, well less than half that of the state of Michigan.

The wild fluctuation in life expectancy rates is something I am well aware, as I grew up in Pennsylvania where my father was a coal miner and steel worker who was often laid off because of strikes and economic slowdowns. We weren’t poor, but life was a struggle for my parents.

Our lives didn’t improve until my father was fortunate to land a job in Chile, South America, where he became part of a crew training Chileans on how to operate a steel mill. After his five-year contract ended, he landed a supervisor job at McLouth Steel in Trenton, Michigan.

But all those years working in communities laden with smoke-filled factories, steel mills and foundries took its toll on my parents. Both died in their 60s.

Even though my parents were smokers, I often wondered how much industrial pollutants factored in their deaths. I have friends from the same area who also lost a parent or parents at ages younger than the average life expectancy rate.

My wife’s mother is 91, and she has two aunts who are in their 80s. They grew up on a farm in Fremont, Michigan. I also had aunts who lived long lives.

Of course, there are other factors that determine how long we live. Diet and exercise, of course, are important to remaining healthy. Stress also plays a role.

But I do feel fortunate to live in a community where healthy lifestyles are emphasized. Here’s to your health, everyone.

— By Len Painter, Tribune community columnist

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