The L.A. Times is reporting that women in the Deep South, Appalachia, and the lower Midwest have shorter life expectancies than they did a decade ago. Some of us can expect to live a year less. Here's a handy map of where all the doomed women are. You'll see our state has quite a few areas full of them.
The article does note that the burden of shorter lifespans is borne by poor women, but I am curious why they think this is. Says the Times:
The grim trend is fueled largely by smoking, high blood pressure and obesity, according to Murray and other population health experts.
Fueled largely by smoking, high blood pressure and obesity? Really?
This "smoking" thing caught my eye because that seems a little strange. Do women in the South smoke more than women elsewhere? I've traveled a lot, and I'm willing to believe that might be true. But do they smoke more now than women did 10 years ago? Or 20? Back when women's life expectancies were lengthening?
I don't think it's physically possible to smoke more than people did in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, unless the South is filled with women who smoke five cigarettes at a time whenever they are outside. For God's sake, you used to be able to smoke at your desk, when I got my first job at a newspaper. (You also apparently used to be able to smoke copious amounts of weed in your office, buy bags of Cheetos by the armfuls, and spend the afternoons too stoned at your desk to get up when the waxer got jammed and the new girl needed help. But those were different times.)
So I started to poke around some at other maps of Tennessee. I found this map that shows all the meth lab busts in Tennessee. I found this map that shows where the fiscal trends in our state are going down. I found this map that shows personal and family economic well-being in our state. And perhaps most applicable, I found this webpage from the Department of Health with maps showing the counties in our state where there aren't enough doctors or dentists, where people have trouble getting prenatal care or accessing pediatricians. Yes, the maps are all from different years, but they're from the years in which our life expectancy declined.
And I think they suggest that there are a lot of factors playing into why women's lives are being shortened. The truth is that, if you can't get access to medical care, either because there aren't any doctors or you're too poor to go, that does have negative consequences. It almost doesn't matter if it's cigarettes, high blood pressure and obesity or strokes, moonshine and poison frog that ends up being the immediate cause of your death — if in the years leading up to it you couldn't get the medical care you needed.