PRESS RELEASE: Can Where You Live Lead To An Early Death?

Can Where You Live Lead To An Early Death?

For people in five regions of the United States, their choice of where to live may significantly impact longevity.

Four areas -- the Mississippi Delta, Appalachia, Coastal Plains along the East Coast, and northern Nevada--have clusters of counties with some of the highest mortality rates nationwide.

At the other end of the scale, the upper Great Plains has groups of some of the lowest mortality rates.

Lynne Cossman, a Mississippi State research fellow at the university's Social Science Research Center, describes the situations in the American Journal of Public Health. In the article, the associate sociology professor illustrates how "place" definitely has significance when scientifically examining mortality rates on the local and national level.

For more than 50 years, the MSU center has examined the social, economic, political, human resource, and social-environmental challenges facing the state, nation and world.

Using data compiled by the federal Centers for Disease Control, Cossman has been lead researcher on an MSU team evaluating national mortality rates at the county level from 1968-2004. Even when considering such other factors as sex, race, socioeconomic standing, and education, location continues to have a major impact on mortality rates, she said.

"There's no easy way to explain, so far, how death is rooted in place," observed Cossman, whose research focuses on medical sociology, demography and health services. "But, place matters; that's clearly the case."

Findings by Cossman and the other MSU researchers are consistent with prior work the team did about five years ago. She said the study's findings can serve as a guide for government policymakers to use when determining where to direct resources toward unhealthy regions.

While the current and past studies have indicated a location's impacts on death rates, Cossman said more investigations must be completed to determine exactly why mortality rates are higher or lower in particular regions.

Suspecting that one factor may be an individual's access to quality health care, Cossman said she next plans to explore the issue of prescription drugs as a proxy for morbidity.