As reported by The Hartford Courant, June 15, 2011.

Living Longer: Connecticut Residents Near the Top

Connecticut Women Are Fourth in Longevity; State's Men Rank Third

By William Weir

Connecticut men and women rank near the top in the United States for longevity, which health experts attribute to diet, activity and affluence.

A study of mortality data in 3,147 cities and counties in the nation released Wednesday found Connecticut men with the third-highest longevity and women at fourth-highest. The analysis, conducted by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, included data from 1987 to 2007.

Of the state's eight counties, Fairfield fares best in longevity. Among females, it was the 35th-highest-ranked county in the U.S. in 2007 at 83.3 years, and among men that same year it was 36th highest, at 78.9 years.

From 1987 to 2007, Connecticut men's lifespans increased by 4.7 years and women's increased by 2.9 years. In 2007, Connecticut men had a longevity of 77.5 years (equal to the males of Singapore, the 14th-highest nation in longevity) and women were at 82.3 years (equal to 18th-ranked Austria).

"I think the fact that we're doing better in Connecticut is because physical activity and obesity are not as much of a problem," said Dr. George Kuchel, director of the UConn Center on Aging.

"But it's a very complex issue, and you have to be careful not to base too much on averages," he said, adding that data based on county populations don't tell the story of the health of people who live in inner-city areas.

"The bad news is that we have a lot of disparities in Connecticut. Numbers don't tell you a lot about the people at the other end of the spectrum."

Access to health care also plays a big role, Kuchel said, and Connecticut does much better in that sense than many states with large rural populations. Connecticut has 36.6 physicians per 10,000 residents; by comparison, Idaho has 17.9. Medicaid, which provides health care for low-income families, is also a major factor.

"Medicaid for the poor varies tremendously across the country," he said. "It's far more generous in Connecticut than in Texas and other states."

Marlene B. Schwartz, deputy director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale University, agreed that diet likely plays a big part in longevity but, she said, the most important factor is affluence.

"There is an association between poor diet, obesity and morbidity and mortality," she said in an e-mail, "but if you are really looking for the underlying cause, I would say that poverty is the root of all of the problems."

Kuchel said the national longevity figures tell a story of "two powerful forces moving against each other." On one hand, he said, certain populations are increasingly aware of how to maintain their health, while others are "facing this epidemic of obesity and sedentarism."

Unknown, he said, is which of these forces will predominate in the near future.

"There's absolutely no doubt that there will be more older people, and more older people who are disabled," Kuchel said, "but also more older people who will remain physically vibrant and examples of successful aging. But we don't know what the proportions will be."