Twin Cities Tell a Tale of Life Expectancy and Affluence

By Jeremy Morris, Associate Editor, US Daily Review.
A report released by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota Foundation and Wilder Research finds that overall life expectancy in the Twin Cities has increased in the past decade. However, average life expectancy in the least affluent neighborhoods is more than seven years less than in the most affluent neighborhoods.

“At the Blue Cross Foundation, we believe that all Minnesotans should have a fair chance to live a long, healthy life, regardless of their income, education, geographic location or ethnic background,” said Stacey Millett, senior program officer.

The study analyzed the most recent health data available, organized by U.S. Census tract, to determine the relationship between several socioeconomic factors and health.

The findings include:

  • Overall, Twin Cities residents are living longer. Average life expectancy in the region is 81 years, compared with a national average of 76.5 years. This is an increase of 1.5 years between 2000 and 2007.
  • Average life expectancy is 84 years in the region’s highest-income neighborhoods compared to 76 years in the lowest-income neighborhoods.
  • Between 2000 and 2007, the gap in life expectancy rates among residents living in neighborhoods with the highest and lowest concentrations of poverty narrowed from 8 years to 6.6 years.
  • Age-adjusted mortality rates improved among all racial/ethnic groups except for U.S.-born African American residents. Mortality rates decreased as much as 47 percent among foreign-born African American residents, compared to a slight increase of 3 percent among U.S.-born African American residents.
  • Mortality rates among American Indian and U.S.-born African American residents remain notably higher (3 – 3.5 times) than the regional average.

“Our analysis found that there continue to be strong relationships between socioeconomic status, race and health. While the study suggests that health inequities may be narrowing in our region, it is a snapshot comparing two points in time and may not reflect larger trends. In addition, we do not know how future health outcomes may be impacted by the recent economic downturn,” said Melanie Ferris research scientist and author of the report.

Worsening socioeconomic conditions identified in the study include:

  • The percentage of residents living below the poverty level ($22,113 for a family of four) increased from 7 percent in 2000 to 11 percent in 2010.
  • In 2010, the average median household income in the Twin Cities region was $62,000, a decrease of nearly $9,000 since 2000.
  • In 2010, over one-third of households were housing cost-burdened compared with 24 percent in 2000.
  • 74 percent of residents were employed in 2010 compared with 80 percent in 2000.

New research included in the report looks at socioeconomic differences in access to healthy foods, opportunities for physical activity and social connectedness. Key findings include:

  • Since 2008, annual visits to Twin Cities food shelves increased over 30 percent to more than 1.5 million.
  • Social connectedness affects health directly and indirectly. The study found that while many Minnesotans feel connected in their communities, disparities exist based on socioeconomic position.

In November 2011, the Foundation added a full-time position dedicated to health equity programming, with four funding opportunities to be announced yet this year. Additionally, the Foundation is co-funding a study with The McKnight Foundation to obtain statewide data on life expectancy and mortality with a goal of developing recommendations for the state and region.

All opinions expressed on USDR are those of the author and not necessarily those of US Daily Review.

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