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Life Expectancy: What You Can Control


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A person’s health is affected by a variety of factors, ranging from personal choices to genetics to outside forces. The same is true for populations as a whole. Life expectancy is the average age a person can expect to live when born in a given time and place.

The calculation gives medical professionals, scientists, policymakers and others a snapshot into different populations. Why do some groups live longer? What causes some groups to die sooner? What can be done to help address those problems?

Life expectancy is calculated based on many factors, some of which we can control and some of which are completely out of our hands. Some factors we can’t control are the year we are born, where we are born and our race.

Another example: sex. Women tend to live longer, and that has been true throughout the decades. A baby girl born in the year 1900 could expect to live 48.3 years – two years longer than a baby boy born that same year. For babies born in 2014, the life expectancy is 81.2 years for women, compared to 76.4 years for men, according to national statistics from theCenters for Disease Control and Prevention. One key reason for the difference? Men are more likely to have heart disease than women, even though heart disease is the leading cause of death for both sexes.

Geography is another factor that can have wide-ranging effects on life expectancy, because geography is likely to affect things like work opportunities, lifestyle and access to health.

Nations have widely different life expectancies. Monaco, a tiny nation on the French Riviera, has a life expectancy of nearly 90 years. The African nation of Chad has a life expectancy of less than 50 years. While those two places are very different, even small-scale geography can make a difference.

In Oklahoma, residents in the Panhandle generally have longer life expectancies, while southeast Oklahoma residents have shorter life expectancies. Women in Ellis County have the longest life expectancy at 82.1 years, while Seminole County men have the shortest at 69.1 years, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation

But there is good news: we can make personal choices that affect our individual lifespan. The Harvard School of Public Health found that four key factors -- smoking, high blood pressure, high blood sugar and obesity -- can cut life expectancy by nearly five years. Exercise, proper nutrition and other healthy choices can boost our numbers. So while everything from our genetics to our hometown can play a role in our life expectancy, the number doesn't have to be our fate. Healthy habits make a difference.

Graphic showing a map of Oklahoma and the world

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