EDITORIAL: Risks and warnings

By NEMS Daily Journal

Significant information about public and personal health issues released this month should provide more motivation and concern in Mississippi about the way many citizens treat themselves – personal choices that cause a lowering life expectancy in many Mississippi counties, especially among women, and among the shortest life spans for many black Mississippians in the United States.
The Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington last week released a huge volume of information about life spans in the U.S. and worldwide showing clearly that even as much as Americans spend on health care many people in many counties can expect to live shorter lives than as recently as 10 years ago.
In Mississippi, physicians and researchers say the life-shortening is linked most of all to the poor health behaviors previously identified as huge problems: obesity, poor diet, diabetes, the level of strokes in the population, heart health, smoking – and separately but related, race.
Three Northeast Mississippi counties are among those identified in the report with life expectancy declines for women: Lee, Itawamba and Tishomingo.
The report cites the lowest life expectancy rates for black women in the nation in five Mississippi counties, and in five counties for men, almost all in the Mississippi Delta.
The United States and Mississippi are both off the pace of life expectancy of the worldwide leaders.
In another major point of interest, the Food and Drug Administration last week released its new rules for health warnings on cigarette packages. Cigarettes are the leading case of lung cancer and are direct or significant contributing factors for many other diseases. Combined in Mississippians with other high-risk factors, the toxic mix becomes even more life shortening.
The new images, which will cover 50 percent of the backs and fronts of cigarette packages beginning in late 2012, are powerfully graphic. The news release from the American Lung Association carries a warning about their disturbing nature.
They show, among other things, healthy and smoking-diseased lungs side by side, an autopsied body of a cigarette victim, and a cancerous open lesion on the lip in front of the yellow-stained teeth of a smoker.
The strength of the new warnings is long overdue, and we also support the American Lung Association’s effort to include on the package the help number 1-800-QUIT-NOW.
The World Health Organization has said “health warnings on tobacco packages increase smokers’ awareness of their risk. Use of pictures with graphic depictions of disease and other negative images has greater impact than words alone.”
The University of Washington Researchers also reported that the relatively low life expectancies in the U.S. point to high rates of obesity, tobacco use, and site them as preventable risk factors.
Nationwide, women are losing more ground than men. Black men and women have lower life expectancies than white men and women in all counties.
Of particular concern in Mississippi and other states with high proportions of black residents, life expectancy for black women ranges from 69.6 to 82.6 years, and for black men, from 59.4 to 77.2 years. In both cases, no counties are ahead of the international frontier, and some are more than 50 years behind.
The study, the Delta Regional Authority reported, shows Mississippi has 18 of the 20 Delta counties with the lowest life expectancy. Its counties extend from southern Illinois to Louisiana.
The two streams of health information provide energy for Tupelo to continue its communitywide health and anti-obesity efforts, and for other counties and communities to take seriously the challenge of changing personal choices.
Go to the website www.healthmetricsandevaluation.org/news-events/news-release/life-expectancy-in-us-counties-2011 to access the report and its maps showing every American county.