Life Expectancy in Arkansas 'Everybody Could Be Doing a Lot Better'

A Longer Life Could Be a County Away

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - Would you rethink where you raise a family if you knew how long you're likely to live was less than average?

Only one out of all 75 counties in Arkansas has a greater life expectancy than the national average, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF).

The average national life expectancy is 75.6 years for men and 80.7 years for women. 

The RWJF is a 45-year-old national organization supporting research and programs targeting the countries most pressing health issues. 

Dr. Namvar Zohoori is the Chief Science Officer at the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) and he has studied numbers compiled by the foundation and its partner organization County Health Rankings and Road Maps. 

The website uses state provided data and ranks counties by health outcomes.

"It's designed to take this information that for many of us could seem overwhelming or difficult to understand  and then frame it in a way that says anyone can take this information and use it to improve health," Attica Scott, a community coach for County Health Rankings and Road Maps said. 

The life expectancy list awards Benton County in Northwest Arkansas with the number 1 spot with men living to be 76.6 years old and women 81.1 years old. 

Phillips County in Eastern Arkansas is ranked dead last on the list with men on average living to be 67.4 years old and women 74.4 years old. 

Click here for the full life expectancy rankings. 

"One factor that is most discrepant between Benton County and Phillips County, is actually access to physical activity," Dr. Zohoori said. 

According to the health rankings report from 2016, 83 percent of residents in Benton County have access to physical activity.

In Phillips County that number is 4 percent.  

Other differences between the two counties include obesity rates, smoking rates and lack of preventative screenings, to name a few. 

"This is really a huge difference between Benton and Phillips County," Zohoori said. 

While Benton County's report card has stellar marks, local researchers like Susan Pickle find its star doesn't shine as brightly when compared to other similar counties in other states.

"Benton County has a wealth of resources but sometimes those resources don't always know where they need to be targeted," Pickle said. 

Pickle is a consumer science agent with the Benton County Extension Office. She uses health research to develop new programs and extend services to those who need them most.

"We don't always reach those that may need the information to improve their health," she said. 

The difference in life expectancy in men in Northwest Arkansas compared to Eastern Arkansas is almost 10 years. The state is working to bridge the gap using programs like Healthy Active Arkansas and Growing Healthy Communities created by the Arkansas Coalition for Obesity. 

But Dr. Zohoori says if we want to change our death outcome in Arkansas, we have to start at birth.

"Children who breastfeed are a lot less likely to become obese, have much better immune systems, get sick a lot less, and as adults have been shown to have fewer chronic diseases," he said. 

Chronic diseases, which contribute to premature death and a lower health ranking. 

While the statistics are broad, what can change them is basic. 

"The rankings are a call to action, they're a way to say there's more for us to do and let's figure out how we can do that together," Scott said. 

To see where your county has health shortcomings, click here. 

Pulaski County ranks number 29 in the state for length of life with men living to be 73.3 and women 78.7. 

The highest ranking central Arkansas county for life expectancy was Faulkner County at number 4. 

Saline County was ranked number 2 for overall health outcomes. 

If you want to see where your county ranks and what is contributing to its position, CLICK HERE. 

For the full ADH report for 2016, CLICK HERE.


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