Study: Fewer healthy years for older black Minnesotans than whites

Black Minnesotans who have reached the age of 65 can expect to be healthy for far less of their remaining years than whites, according to new federal government data.

A report released today by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concludes that black Minnesotans can expect a little over half of their remaining years - or 57 percent -- to be healthy.

On average Minnesotans 65 and older can expect 77.5 percent of their remaining years to be healthy. But while that is true for whites, black senior citizens will not see as many healthy years.

"That is a significant difference," said Paula Yoon, acting director of the Epidemiology and Analysis Program Office at the CDC. "So in Minnesota whites can expect about 15.6 years of healthy life, and blacks have a healthy life expectancy of about 11.5 years," said Yoon.

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The study marks the first time that the CDC has looked at healthy life expectancy by state. Healthy life expectancy is the proportion of a person's remaining years that they can expect to live in good health.

"In Minnesota, whites (over age 65) can expect about 15.6 years of healthy life, and blacks have a healthy life expectancy of about 11.5 years."

Minnesota is among the top tier of states for life expectancy and good health among people who reach age 65, according to the government data. It also confirms Minnesota's reputation as state where people tend to live long, healthy lives remains true for most residents as they reach retirement age.

But it reveals that stark health disparities persist among Minnesota seniors, depending on their race and sex.

Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger said most Minnesotans have access to high quality health care. But he does not think everyone has equal access to tools and resources that would prevent poor health.

"Not everybody lives in safe neighborhoods, not everybody has an adequate level of wealth to support them," Ehlinger said. "They don't have access to good food. And those are the things that I think would really decrease the quality of life and the healthiness of life."

Ehlinger plans to ask his vital statistics unit at the Health Department to take a closer look at the CDC study to see what can be learned from the information.

The CDC data do not reveal the reasons for poor health among different racial groups. But Yoon said researchers do know factors that contribute to healthy aging include safe environments, exercising, not smoking, getting preventive services and having access to good quality health care.

"The bottom line for us is we really think we need to support prevention programs that make it easier for people to be healthy no matter who they are or where they live," Yoon said.

Across the nation, the CDC found that healthy life expectancy for whites was greater than for blacks in all of the states and the District of Columbia. The study also showed that healthy life expectancy for females was greater than for males in all states. It also found that healthy life expectancy for people living in the southern states tended to be lower than for other parts of the country.