Q&A: Cyril Chang 

Director of Methodist-Le Bonheur Center for Healthcare Economics

Recently, the Harvard Initiative for Global Health released a study that investigated the mortality rate across the United States.Tennessee ranked 45th in the nation, with an average lifespan of 75.1 years. Residents in Shelby County typically live even shorter lives: on average, 73.2 years. But perhaps most strikingly, the lifespan between the longest-living and shortest-living Americans -- Asian women in New Jersey and Native Americans in South Dakota, respectively -- is a difference of almost 30 years.

The Flyer sat down with Cyril Chang, director of the Methodist-Le Bonheur Center for Healthcare Economics, to discuss the ramifications of the study. -- by Zac Hill

Flyer: Why is this study important?

Chang: Well, what it says is that the average lifespan in Tennessee is below the national average. But the question to ask is: How much are we below the average? If everybody is similar, then it does not hurt that much. But in this case, top to bottom, there is a huge difference. That is scary.

Why are there such wide gaps in lifespan across different populations?

It's important to understand one of the things the study points out, which is that it is too simplistic to view this as a health-care problem. Mostly, it's a behavioral thing. There are few major behaviors causing a lot of the trouble: Smoking is number one, then poor nutrition. This is not the same as starving people in Africa who don't have options. You have obesity and smoking, then drug abuse, gun violence, and accidents.

What can be done?

The answer is education. Whether smoking is the problem or nutrition is the problem, you approach them in the same way. We know from research that if you don't pick up smoking by age 20, for instance, chances are you're not going to smoke. With the overweight population getting younger and younger, in order to fight it, we're going to have to start sooner and sooner.


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