Study shows area residents living longer

Published 6:00 pm Sunday, July 3, 2011

A recent study indicates a decline in lifeexpectancy for many Mississippi counties, but the numbers forLincoln County and the surrounding area are more positive.

    “There is now more knowledge in Southwest Mississippi regardinghealth,” said Cliff Brumfield, Brookhaven-Lincoln County Chamber ofCommerce executive vice president. “People are making betterchoices regarding healthy lifestyles.”

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    The study, “Falling Behind: Life Expectancy in U.S. Counties from2000 to 2007 in an International Context,” was recently publishedby Population Health Metrics, an online journal.

    Between 2000 and 2007, more than half of Mississippi countiesactually saw a drop in life expectancy of one or both sexes.

    But not in Lincoln County.

    In Lincoln County, life expectancy for males increased between 2000and 2007 by 1.1 years, resulting in a 2007 life expectancy rate of71.8. During the same seven-year period female life expectancyincreased, but much less. An extra 0.4 years gave a 2007 femalelife expectancy of 77.9.

    Lawrence, Franklin and Copiah all saw increases of a year or lessfor both sexes between 2000 and 2007.

    Among Lincoln, Lawrence, Franklin and Copiah counties Lincoln hadthe highest life expectancy for both sexes in 2007.

    Brent Fountain, assistant extension profession of nutrition atMississippi State University, described Mississippi’s generallypoor numbers as no surprise.

    “This is another confirmation of what results from the healthproblems Mississippi is having. At some point you’re going to seean outcome,” Fountain said.

    Fountain pointed out some examples of those problems: high obesityrates, high diabetes rates, low physical activity and poor accessto health care.

    “If you are not as your healthiest you will die sooner,” Fountainsaid.

    Health literacy is also weak among many Mississippians.

    Fountain used diabetes to explain this point. He said many seem tothink that diabetes is a natural part of the life cycle.

    “People think, ‘my parents had it. I will to.’ It’s a downwardcycle of hopelessness that occurs,” Fountain said.

    Fountain explained that many factors could contribute to thisarea’s higher numbers, but highlighted the role of poverty indetermining heath.

    “Poverty is always going to be a factor in this,” Fountain said.”That gets overlooked. Eating healthier will make you live longer,but saying that is not enough. Are those healthy foods availableand affordable?”

    The study identified that Holmes County has the lowest lifeexpectancy in not only Mississippi, but also the United States. InHolmes, 48 percent of the population lives under the poverty levelaccording to the U.S. Census Bureau.

    In Lincoln County, 19 percent of residents are below the povertylevel.

    Lawrence and Franklin counties have poverty statistics comparableto Lincoln’s, but 26 percent of Copiah’s population is in poverty.Copiah’s 2007 life expectancy numbers were the lowest among it,Lincoln, Franklin and Lawrence counties.

    Brumfield focused on education in Lincoln County to partiallyexplain higher levels of health. Brumfield said that the highschool graduation rates have increased, as have the number ofLincoln residents attending college.

    “An increase in education will bring an increase in health,”Brumfield said. “More educated people know more about a healthylifestyle and how to take care of themselves.”

    Brumfield also sees a correlation between Brookhaven’s investmentin King’s Daughters Medical Center and higher levels of healthwithin the area.

    Fountain sees some positive policy changes taking place, such asthe Healthy Students Act. The act required increased physicalactivity and health education at public school.

    Fountain was also encouraged by the implementation of healthiercafeteria menus at public schools.

    He remains cautious about when results may happen, however.

    “We didn’t get in this situation overnight,” he said. “There won’tbe a quick fix.”