States Where People Live the Longest

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20. Maryland (tied)
> Life expectancy at birth in 2015: 79.6 years
> Increase in life expectancy, 1980-2014: 6.85 years — 4th largest increase
> Poverty rate: 9.0% — 4th lowest
> Adult obesity rate: 31.0% — 23rd highest
> Adult smoking rate: 13.8% — 8th lowest
> Adults in poor or fair health: 14.9% — 14th lowest

Residents of wealthier areas have better access to high quality medical care and to healthy food. Both factors are associated with higher life expectancy, and wealthier states tend to have higher life expectancy. Maryland has the highest median household income of any state, at $86,738, more than $20,000 than the typical household income average, but far from the highest life expectancy.

Still, average life expectancy in Maryland has improved significantly in recent decades from 72.8 years in 1980 — in the bottom 10 of states at that time — to 79.6 years in 2015. The nearly seven years improvement is higher than in all but three states.

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19. Nebraska (tied)
> Life expectancy at birth in 2015: 79.6 years
> Increase in life expectancy, 1980-2014: 4.25 years — 15th smallest increase
> Poverty rate: 9.9% — 11th lowest
> Adult obesity rate: 32.2% — 16th highest
> Adult smoking rate: 15.4% — 14th lowest
> Adults in poor or fair health: 14.4% — 9th lowest

Nebraska’s life expectancy at birth ranking over the last four decades has dropped significantly, from sixth highest in 1980 to 20th highest in 2015 as the improvement in life expectancy was 15th smallest. This may be partially due several unhealthy behaviors and negative health outcomes.

Some 21.7% of state adult residents report excessive drinking, the fourth highest share of all states and higher than the national share of 19.0%. Similarly, the state’s adult obesity rate is higher than the national share.

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18. Oregon (tied)
> Life expectancy at birth in 2015: 79.6 years
> Increase in life expectancy, 1980-2014: 4.85 years — 25th smallest increase
> Poverty rate: 11.4% — 24th lowest
> Adult obesity rate: 28.8% — 19th lowest
> Adult smoking rate: 16.1% — 21st lowest
> Adults in poor or fair health: 16.7% — 24th lowest

Just as lack of access to medical care can adversely affect life expectancy, a strong health system can help improve high life expectancy. For every 100,000 Oregon residents, there are 94 primary care physicians, 80 dentists, and 522 mental health providers — all in the top 10 among states.

The adult obesity and smoking rates in the stat are lower than their respective national averages. Additionally, Oregon residents appear to be physically active. At 17.2%, Oregon has the third lowest share of the adult population that does not exercise regularly.

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17. Wisconsin (tied)
> Life expectancy at birth in 2015: 79.6 years
> Increase in life expectancy, 1980-2014: 4.44 years — 20th smallest increase
> Poverty rate: 10.4% — 16th lowest
> Adult obesity rate: 31.3% — 22nd highest
> Adult smoking rate: 16.0% — 20th lowest
> Adults in poor or fair health: 16.7% — 23rd lowest

At 24.2%, no other state has a higher share of adults who drink excessively than Wisconsin. Defined by the CDC as having at least five drinks during one occasion for men and four for women, excessive drinking has been linked to higher risk of heart disease, cancer, and mental health problems, all of which can increase mortality risk.

Despite the high excessive drinking rate, more Wisconsin residents tend to report several healthy behaviors compared to the rest of the country. Both the share of the state adult population that smokes and leads a sedentary lifestyle is lower than the national averages.

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16. North Dakota
> Life expectancy at birth in 2015: 79.7 years
> Increase in life expectancy, 1980-2014: 3.89 years — 10th smallest increase
> Poverty rate: 10.6% — 17th lowest
> Adult obesity rate: 32.7% — 13th highest
> Adult smoking rate: 18.3% — 18th highest
> Adults in poor or fair health: 15.1% — 17th lowest

Despite ranking among the states with the highest life expectancy, North Dakota used to rank even higher. The state’s life expectancy rank dropped from fourth highest in 1980 to 16th highest in 2015 as the improvement in average life expectancy over that time was 10th smallest.

Poor health outcomes and unhealthy behaviors may be contributing to the Peace Garden State’s dip. Some 32.7% of state adults are obese, higher than the 29.0% national rate. And about 24.1% of adults report excessive drinking, the second highest share of all states.