Healthy lifestyles: Where you live can impact how long you live

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It is a fact. Where you live can affect how long you live. This is not so much about things such as weather conditions, or proximity to water and possible flooding, or temperature extremes or even the possibility of earthquakes. The biggest factor is the dietary habits established deep within a particular culture. Let’s take a look.

Obesity Map (Click to enlarge)
Obesity Map
(Click to enlarge)

The four states in the United States with the lowest life expectancy are Louisiana at 75.7 years, Alabama at 75.42 years, West Virginia at 75.40 and Mississippi at 74.96. They are also the top ranking states for obesity coming at greater than 35 percent of the population being obese. Among the states with the highest life expectancy numbers are number one Hawaii at 81.30 and California at 80.77, both well above the national average of 78.86 years.

Both states also enjoy an obesity rate less than 25 percent. That is still not good but clearly better than greater than 35 percent. So what other obvious differences are there between the less obese and longer living states versus the states with the greater obesity ranking and the shorter life expectancy? One inescapable answer lies within the question. Greater obesity shortens life span. But then there are cultural differences.

Waffle House Breakfast (
Waffle House Breakfast

One of the preeminent chain restaurants in Dixie is the amazing Waffle House. Yes their food is delicious and as their name suggests they are heavily focused on waffles, but that is not their entire menu. Great taste or not consider this: a typical Waffle House breakfast would be a Pecan Waffle at 530 calories, with a sausage side at 260 calories topped off with two tablespoons of butter at 204 calories and two tablespoons of syrup at 118 calories for a whopping total of 1112 calories, just to get your day going and not counting your two cups of coffee with cream and sugar.

Well with your scrumptious breakfast gone it is lunchtime and back you go to Waffle House. This time from their lunch menu you order a Texas Bacon Cheeses Steak at 720 calories, a large side of hashbrowns at 380 calories and a topping of Bert’s Chili at 110 calories for a grand total of 1210 calories for lunch, bringing the daily total to 2322 calories before you even sit down for dinner and excluding any snacks you might grab along the way.

Kale Salad (How Sweet It Is)
Kale Salad
(How Sweet It Is)

Both California and Hawaii lean towards far less heavy foods. Both of those states are highly diverse in population with plenty of food choices coming from a typically leaner Asian menu, including a fairly significant amount of seafood including the always popular sushi. Fresh fruits and salads are also very popular with most of the people of California and Hawaii, making the average calorie intake significantly lower in California and Hawaii than in Dixie.

This does not mean that everyone in California and Hawaii eats a well-chosen balanced, nutritious and low fat food or the good people of America’s South eat only high calorie fat, sugar and salt laden food. Of course, there are always exceptions. But it is abundantly clear from the broad statistics that the folks in Hawaii and California tend to live longer than the folks in Dixie and that in a broad sense their diets clearly play a role in that difference.

The one important take away from this is that where you live does play a role in how long you will live. Knowing that can help you pay extra attention to those dietary differences that can and indeed do impact your life expectancy. Yes, of course, there are many physically very fit people in Dixie and there also plenty of obese folks in Hawaii and California, but when you live in an area known for its higher danger you can and must pay just a wee more attention.

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Copyright © 2016 Ron Irwin

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Top photo from Maui, Hawaii, by Claudia Gestro