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A new report has ranked the states with the highest and lowest rates of premature deaths occurring before age 75. FG Trade/Getty Images
  • A new report discovered the top 10 states that had the most premature deaths occurring before age 75 in 2020.
  • Mississippi topped the list with 13,781 premature deaths.
  • Unintentional injury, cancer, heart disease, and COVID-19 were the top reasons for premature deaths.

One of the constant mysteries of life is knowing exactly how many years you’ll live.

However, you can gain some understanding based on the fact that the average life expectancy in the United States is 76 years old, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Passing away before then is considered a premature death — and the state you live in might indicate your odds of falling into that category.

A report by NY Requirements analyzed the states that were most impacted by premature deaths in 2020. Based on the years of potential life lost before age 75 per 100,000 people, the report found the following to be the states with the highest rate of premature deaths:

  • Mississippi: 13,781
  • West Virginia: 13,072
  • Louisiana: 12,377
  • Alabama: 12,139
  • Kentucky: 11,942
  • New Mexico: 11,896
  • Tennessee: 11,654
  • Arkansas: 11,545
  • South Carolina: 10,898
  • Oklahoma: 10,873

Reasons for premature death in 2020

According to the National Center for Health Statistics Years of Potential Life Lost Report, the following were the reasons for premature death in 2020, in this order.

  1. Unintentional injury
  2. Cancer
  3. Heart disease
  4. COVID-19
  5. Suicide
  6. Homicide
  7. Liver disease

“2020 was an unprecedented year for lives impacted and lost due to COVID-19 and COVID-19 -related disease…With healthcare workers and resources maxed out, and consumers being hesitant to go to the doctor or hospital, there were additional delays in treating individuals with chronic illness,” Dr. Carmel Person, a geriatric physician at Norton Community Medical Associates, told Healthline.

“Many people were isolated from family, friends, and co-workers, with some feeling hopeless, they turned to unhealthy coping mechanisms including excessive alcohol use, tobacco use, sedentary lifestyles, and overeating,” she added.

The consequences of the pandemic led to a delay in care for Americans with acute traumatic injuries and complications related to chronic disease, added Dr. Robert Glatter, ER doctor at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, NY.

“Mental health care was a prime example where our healthcare systems were unable to accommodate those who were suicidal and depressed leading to a spike in suicides, along with a dramatic increase in homicides due to gun violence,” he told Healthline. “Alcohol use sharply increased, further complicating care in our hospital systems for those with alcohol poisoning or withdrawal.”

Populations at risk for premature death

The report found that populations at greater risk for premature death include Alaska Native/American Indian people, who have premature death rates around 50% higher than those of non-Hispanic whites.

Additionally, infant mortality rates are almost twice as high among this population than they are among white children.

The rate of premature death among the Black population was consistently double that of the white population from 1960 to 2009, with cardiovascular disease, homicide, and infant mortality being the driving factors.

Moreover, Black populations have the highest infant mortality rate in the United States.

People in rural communities are also at higher risk for premature death. White adults in rural areas have a steadily rising early mortality rate, largely due to poisonings, drug overdoses, and suicides.

“Ethnic and racial disparities, economic inequality along with geographical influences all play a clear role in elevating overall risk for premature death. Addressing such health, economic and geographic disparities is crucial to not only improving and buttressing public health infrastructure but also addressing future pandemic response,” said Glatter.

He added that loneliness and depression in older Americans living alone with few social ties is another population that is affected by spiking rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide. 

“Addressing disparities in access to mental health care is critical going forward. This means developing plans that make availability of therapists and psychiatrists a top priority. Enabling access to internet and Wi-Fi is a critical aspect in this endeavor,” Glatter said.

States where you’re most likely to live longer and how to live longer

The report revealed that the following states are where you’re least likely to die early:

  • Hawaii
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • New Hampshire 
  • Washington

While there are multiple factors that impact how you age, the illnesses you may or may not experience, and how long you might live, Person said sometimes the question is not how long we live, but instead, what is the quality of that life?

“There is a significant difference between quantity of existence and quality of living, and the factors that impact our aging experience may vary, but there are some generalizations that impact all of us,” she said.

Steps you can take to help lengthen your lifespan

While there is no specific roadmap to how you age since it is an individualized process, Person and Glatter suggest the following behaviors to help improve your overall well-being.

Limit alcohol intake

Because alcohol has an impact on judgment and physical limitations, Glatter said it’s important to cut back as you get older.

“Overall, alcohol-related injuries are quite common and a significant source of morbidity and mortality, particularly as we age,” he said.

Prioritize nutrition

A well-balanced approach to nutrition, as well as ensuring maintenance of dental and oral hygiene are also integral to our health, Person said.  

“Knowing our body’s baselines, and subtle changes can empower us to take earlier action when indicated,” she said.

Avoid risky behavior

Glatter said to stay away from risky activities that could potentially be life-threatening or life-altering, such as rock climbing, skydiving, bungee jumping, and riding a motorcycle, which may require a higher level of physical fitness, coordination, and awareness.

“For example, climbing up on ladders can be dangerous, especially since your core strength may be suboptimal. Under the influence of alcohol the risk of serious injury is even greater,” he said.

He recommended practicing yoga for balance and engaging in strength training with weights to build core muscle strength and help reduce the risk of injury.

This is particularly important as you age, said Person. She advised that anticipating and identifying safety hazards or situations that could lead to falls or injury will help mitigate the risk of further injury, decline, and loss of function.

“Many accidents that have a spiraling effect on a senior citizen can frequently be avoided. Falls at homes are a leading cause of trauma. Area rugs, high-shelving, uneven floors, floor décor such as magazine racks, knickknacks, along with poor vision, and ill-fitting shoes all contribute to the increased risk of injurious falls,” said Person.

Teach children preventative measures

Living proactively physically and emotionally rather than reactively can set the stage for healthy living, said Person.

“The best way to stay active as an adult is to develop early childhood patterns of activity, exercise, and healthy eating,” said Person. “In addition, the earlier we adopt patterns of a healthy lifestyle and learn effective emotional coping mechanisms, the more apt we are to pursue them into adulthood.”

She added that getting children routine vaccinations and regular healthcare visits can help keep them ahead of potential disease and acute symptoms.

Know your family medical history

Understanding genetic predispositions and risk factors, such as close relatives with breast cancer or heart disease, as well as understanding mental health illness, such as close family members with bipolar disorder or alcoholism, can help you adopt a preventative approach to well-being.

For instance, if you know a family member has a genetic medical condition, seeking out genetic testing or conducting extra screening can help discover illness in early stages.

Seek medication oversight

If you take medication, adhering to what your doctor prescribed is the best way to manage conditions. However, Person noted that discovering alternative interventions to the use of pharmacological interventions that are approved by your healthcare provider can effectively manage symptoms, improve appetite, decrease the risk of medication-to-medication interaction, and result in cost savings.

Stay socially engaged

A lot of research points to the benefits of social interaction and detriments of social isolation and loneliness on health outcomes. In fact, the Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, recently stated that loneliness in the United States is as deadly as smoking a dozen cigarettes daily. In a 2023 advisory, Murthy called for social isolation to be treated as seriously as obesity or drug abuse.

“Staying engaged after retirement through volunteer work, hobbies, and physical activity will enhance life in this next chapter,” said Person.

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