The richest Americans live ten years longer than the poorest, according to the latest data, and the health gap between them is widening. This in turn increases the differences in longevity between the two groups.
In a study published in The Lancet, scientists from Boston University’s School of Public Health report that the richest 1% of Americans live an average of 10 to 15 years longer than the poorest 1%. Since 2001, those with the least income showed no increase in survival, while people in middle and high incomes groups have gained on average two years in life expectancy.
Poverty is associated not only with being unable to afford the best health care, but also an unhealthy diet and smoking. Researchers say that diabetes and hypertension are two of the most common conditions that disproportionately affect poorer people.
In addition, those on the lowest end of the income scale are less likely to survive long enough to qualify for “federally mandated health coverage,” or Medicare. For individuals of all ages with private insurance, rising premiums and cost sharing have undermined wage gains and driven many households into debt and even bankruptcy.
A lower income often affects where one lives, making proximity to supermarkets and nutritious fruits and vegetables an issue. It also leads to stress, and many people who smoke say they smoke to relieve stress.
One of the study’s authors, Jacob Bor, assistant professor of global health at Boston University, said, “Low-income Americans are increasingly left behind.”
He stated that if income gaps continue to widen with increasing inequality, health disparities will as well. With the life expectancy of the wealthiest Americans already exceeding that of the poorest by 10–15 years, experts predict the trend to spread to a larger share of the population. This would result in the ten-year difference reaching far more people, to include the country’s wealthiest 20% and the poorest 20%.
The researchers recommend interventions to “decouple” income and health. The Alliance for Retired Americans advocates for expanded Medicare and Medicaid services.
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