October 8, 2014

The Good (and Longer) Life in British Columbia

The latest from Clark Williams-Derry at the Sightline Institute:


Living Longer in British Columbia


Life expectancy reached a new high in both British Columbia and in Washington last year. That’s good news, since it means that the residents of both jurisdictions are living longer, healthier lives. …
BC vs WA life expectancyBut what’s genuinely interesting is that life expectancy is rising much faster in some places than in others. As of 1980, for example, lifespans in Washington and British Columbia were nearly in a dead heat: 75.1 years for Washington, 75.8 for BC.  Yet since then, BC has pulled ahead.
By 2013, lifespans in BC had reached 82.7 years, compared with just 80.4 years in Washington—a gap of 2.3 years, which is wider than at any point since Washington began annual reporting of life expectancy statistics. …
So the fact that BC residents live longer probably means that they also spend more time in good health. And it also means that overall health has been improving faster for residents of the province than for its neighbors directly to the south.
Why is that? BC’s decades of universal health insurance almost certainly play a role. But BC has other public health advantages, including lower rates of smoking, obesity, car crashes, and suicide. And underlying many of these trends, Canadian income inequality—while relatively high by international standards—is still lower than in the US. Economic inequality is tightly correlated with poor health, as well as other adverse social outcomes.
In short, BC has a number of small health advantages that add up to a two to three year life expectancy advantage over the jurisdictions just tp the province’s south. And that suggests that any systematic look at how to improve health in US states ought to look not only inward, but also outward—and examine not only what we’re doing wrong, but also at what other parts of the world are doing right.


Full article here.

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  1. I am not sure that the info/graphs provided actually support the discussion and conclusions. These sorts of ‘life expectancy at birth’ figures are powerfully affected by infant mortality. Without more information, the differences could be entirely explained by differences in infant mortality. More useful would be statistics showing life expectancy at age 50 or 60.
    It is also a bit unclear just what the graphs mean. “Life expectancy at birth” for 2010 – is that intending to express the life expectancy of someone born in 2010? Would be speculation. Or is it expressing life expectancy for anyone alive in 2010 – referenced to their date of birth?

    1. No need to worry, you’re not the first one to point out that life expectancy at birth is an estimate (though not speculation, as you phrased it). Many people have dedicated a lot of time and effort researching this area. Wikipedia is a good starting point to learning about it: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life_expectancy
      Your point about infant mortality is valid, though I don’t think you are refuting anything that Gordon quoted: infant mortality is affected by quality of pre-natal and neo-natal health care (“decades of universal health insurance”), the mother’s health (obesity, smoking, etc.), and generally speaking the family’s wealth (touched on above through income inequality). No doubt, there are other factors as well.

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