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Is Politics Creating a 'Mortality Gap' for Americans?

WEDNESDAY, June 8, 2022 (HealthDay News) -- The sharp political divide in the United States may also be creating a widening gap in death rates between those on opposing sides, new research suggests.

For the study, researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) in Boston analyzed death rates and federal and state election data for all U.S. counties from 2001 to 2019.

During that time, deaths rates in Democratic counties fell 22% (from 850 deaths to 664 deaths per 100,000 people), compared with an 11% decline (from 867 to 771 deaths per 100,000) in Republican counties.

Democratic counties had greater reductions in death rates for most common causes of death, including heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory tract diseases, diabetes, influenza and pneumonia, and kidney disease.

When the research team focused on race, they found similar declines in death rates among Black and Hispanic people in both Democratic and Republican counties, but white people in Republican counties had much smaller decreases than those in Democratic counties.

That resulted in a nearly fourfold increase in the "mortality gap" between white people in Republican versus Democratic counties during the study period, according to the report published June 7 in the BMJ.

"In an ideal world, politics and health would be independent of each other and it wouldn't matter whether one lives in an area that voted for one party or another," said study corresponding author Dr. Haider Warraich, from the hospital's division of cardiovascular medicine.

"But that is no longer the case. From our data, we can see that the risk of premature death is higher for people living in a county that voted Republican," Warraich added in a BWH news release.

The widening gap in death rates may reflect the influence of politics on health policies, the researchers suggested.

More Democratic states than Republican states adopted Medicaid expansion, which expanded health insurance coverage to low-income people, the study authors noted.

The investigators also pointed out that the study period ended in 2019, before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, which may have had an even more profound impact on the mortality gap between Republican and Democratic counties.

"Our study suggests that the mortality gap is a modern phenomenon, not an inevitability," Warraich said. "At the start of our study, we saw little difference in mortality rates in Democratic and Republican counties. We hope that our findings will open people's eyes and show the real effect that politics and health policy can have on people's lives."

More information

You can find healthy living advice at the American Academy of Family Physicians.

SOURCE: Brigham and Women's Hospital, news release, June 7, 2022

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