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Life Expectancy Gap Continues to Grow Between Richer, Poorer Americans

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The disparity in life expectancy has almost doubled between more affluent Americans and its poorest residents over an 18-year period, the New York Times reports.

Citing new government data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Healthy People 2010 project, the newspaper says that U.S. residents at top income levels can expect to live an average of 4.5 years longer than the poorest Americans -- 79.2 years vs. 74.7 years. What's even more troubling, the Times reports, is that the information from 1998-2000 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data shows a dramatic increase from the same information from 1980-1982. During that period, the longevity disparity between the richest and poorest Americans was 2.8 years -- 75.8 vs 73.

Why is this gap widening, despite advances in medical knowledge and better treatment options? According to the Times, medical experts give these explanations, among others:

Better-educated, more affluent people can take advantage of the latest advances in heart disease and cancer treatment than the poor.

Better-educated, more affluent people smoke less than poorer people.

Poorer people are exposed to unhealthier food and more dangerous living conditions, than better-educated, affluent people.

Poorer people are less likely to have health insurance and less likely to receive checkups and engage in measures to prevent the onset of some diseases.