Report breaks down life expectancy rates in the Natural State

(Source: KAIT)
(Source: KAIT)
(Source: County Health Rankings and Roadmaps)
(Source: County Health Rankings and Roadmaps)

(KAIT/KARK) - Where you live in Arkansas could determine how long you're expected to live.

Nationally, men live to be almost 76-years-old and women live to be 81.

In Arkansas, only one county can boast a higher life expectancy rate than the national average. The further east you go in the Natural State, the lower life expectancy rates get.

"Everybody could be doing a lot better," Dr. Namvar Zohoori told affiliate KARK. Dr. Zohoori serves as the Chief Science Officer at the Arkansas Health Department.

He studied numbers compiled by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and its partner organization County Health Rankings and Roadmaps. That 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 put it in a way or frame it in a way that says anyone can take this information and use it to improve health," Attica Scott said. Scott is a community coach for County Health Rankings and Roadmaps.

Their data shows Benton County in Northwest Arkansas has the highest life expectancy. People there, on average, live to be 79.6-years-old.

Phillips County in Eastern Arkansas ranks dead last. People there are expected to live to be 71.5-years-old. Three Region 8 counties rank in the bottom 10 in the state for life expectancy rates.

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

In Mississippi and Jackson counties, physical inactivity numbers are even higher than in Phillips County. 39.9% of Jackson County residents are physically inactive. In Mississippi County, the number inches even higher to 40.8%. They're two of the worst counties in the state for physical inactivity. Respectively, just 17% and 23% of the population has access to exercise opportunities.

Physical inactivity is one of many factors County Health Rankings and Road Maps takes into account when it comes to generating life expectancy rates.

Poinsett and Mississippi counties are also in a six-way tie for having the third highest percentage of smokers in the state. Jackson County has some of the highest numbers for preventable hospital stays. Mississippi and Crittenden counties have some of the worst violent crime rates across the state.

According to statistics, you could live as much as 10 years longer in some Northwest Arkansas counties as you could in Eastern Arkansas counties.

In Region 8, Craighead County is one of the only counties with a life expectancy higher than the Natural State average.

11 counties, including Independence, Sharp, Randolph, and Lawrence, all fall between a life expectancy of 74 and 75.5 years.

As for the three counties that rank in the bottom 10, Jackson County ranks in 9th place with a life expectancy of 73.9 years. Mississippi County ranks in 4th place with 73.2 years, and Poinsett County ranks in 2nd to last place with a life expectancy of 72 years old.

Arkansas policymakers are making an effort to bridge the gap through programs like Healthy Active Arkansas.

"There are so many opportunities to really improve health here in Arkansas," Dr. Zohoori told KARK.

Healthy Active Arkansas is just one initiative working to empower families to take advantage of our local resources and live healthier lives but Dr. Zohoori said 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," Dr. Zohoori said.

Those chronic diseases can, in turn, contribute to premature death. While statistics are broad, Scott said what can change them is basic.

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

While some Region 8 counties have poor rankings in some areas, it's not all bad news.

Craighead County has some of the highest doctor to patient and dentist to patient ratios in the entire state.

To view the statistics for yourself, visit County Health Rankings and Roadmaps.

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