This State Has the Shortest Life Expectancy

Our time on Earth is finite and fleeting. All we can do is make the most of the years we have, and that’s where life expectancy comes into play.

For a moment, overlook that a large portion of the United States could be wiped away by a North Korean missile strike. Put aside that we spend way too much on health care, only to receive lackluster treatment compared to other first-world countries. And not too long ago the U.S. made great strides increasing life expectancy, only to see the average slide back the other way.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s most recent data show the overall life expectancy in the U.S. to be 78.8. Men lag behind at 76.3 years while women live 81.2 years on average. Those numbers are some of the worst among the 35 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries.

Despite some of the alarming trends, babies born in the U.S. now could push the numbers back up. By 2050, 1 in 5 Americans could be older than 65. It’s an encouraging sign, but unfortunately some states have it worse than others. Using data from the Kaiser Family Foundation, these are the 15 worst states for life expectancy, including one that is the worst by a fairly substantial margin.

15. North Carolina

Charlotte, North Carolina, USA

Cancer is the leading cause of death in North Carolina. | Sean Pavone/iStock/Getty Images

  • Life expectancy: 77.8 years

If you’re white and you live in North Carolina, you’re much closer to the national average, living to 78.3 years, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Unfortunately, one sector of the population helps North Carolina make the list. If you’re black, your average life expectancy is just 74.7 years. As of 2014 (the latest year full data was available), the state’s average of 858.5 deaths per 100,00 is 66 above the national average. According to CDC data, cancer is the leading cause of death.

Next: Heading over to Ohio

14. Ohio

The Scioto River reflects downtown Columbus Ohio

Heart disease and cancer account for nearly 46% of deaths in Ohio. | David Rigg/iStock/Getty Images

  • Life expectancy: 77.8 years

Asian-Americans (87) and Latinos (85.3) are doing what they can to keep Ohio off the list. But blacks live just 73.9 years. Other than that, Ohio is pretty much in line with national trends. Heart disease and cancer account for nearly 46% of all deaths in the state, in line with U.S. averages.

Next: One state over from Ohio

13. Indiana

autumn scene

The opioid epidemic could make things even worse. | Visit Fort Wayne via Facebook

  • Life expectancy: 77.6 years

Like many other states on the list, Indiana’s black population has a drastically shorter life expectancy compared to whites, 73.8 years compared to 77.7. Like most states, heart disease and cancer are the leading killers, though Indiana’s rate of kidney disease deaths (2.3%) is one the highest in the nation. The national opioid epidemic could sink Indiana even lower in the future.

Next: Making the way over to Missouri

12. Missouri

St. Louis

Missouri is on the list despite having a plethora of hospitals. | Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images

  • Life expectancy: 77.5 years

Despite being one of 19 states with more than 100 hospitals, Missouri still makes an appearance on the list. The life expectancy for white people is 77.7 years. The black life expectancy of 74.2 is just below the black national average of 74.6. As with much of the country, heart disease and cancer are the leading causes of death. However, Missouri’s rate of chronic lower respiratory diseases (asthma, bronchitis, emphysema) is nearly 1% higher than the national average.

Next: Not so peachy in this state

11. Georgia

Atlanta, Georgia, USA downtown city

Despite good access to health care, residents tend to die younger than many other states. | Sean Pavone/iStock/Getty Images

  • Life expectancy: 77.2 years

Georgia is nearly in lockstep with national trends for causes of death. Unfortunately, the end comes sooner for people here than in most other states. Black people, who make up 32% of the population, live an average of 74.7  years. Becker Hospital Review has Georgia ninth in the country with 134 hospitals, indicating access to health care is not much of an issue. The 761 deaths per 100,000 is also one of the lowest on this list, but Georgians still die earlier than most.

Next: Georgia’s border buddy makes the list.

10. South Carolina

Charleston, South Carolina, USA cityscape

The Latino population lives longer than any other race in the state. | Sean Pavone/iStock/Getty Images

  • Life expectancy: 77 years

In South Carolina, heart disease, cancer, and an accumulation of other causes all account for roughly 21% of all deaths. Whites live a full year less than the national average at 77.8, while the Latino population, which lives 83.2 years, is trying to boost the state average. No matter race or gender, South Carolina residents have to deal with one cause of death more than people in other states. It is one of just 15 states where homicide rates as one of the most frequent causes of death.

Next: D.C. is the worst in two ways.

9. Washington, D.C.

Washington D.C., USA skyline

Heart disease is a leading killer in D.C. | Sean Pavone/iStock/Getty Images

  • Life expectancy: 76.5 years

Despite an 84.3 life expectancy for whites, Washington, D.C., is by far the worst in two key metrics. Blacks live to be just 71.2 years old, and D.C. is at or near the bottom for two causes of death. With 28% of the people dying from heart disease, Washington, D.C., sits behind only New York (28.8%) in that category. It leads the way in another cause of death (which to say it’s the worst): 2.1% of deaths in D.C. are from assault and homicide.

Next: Top 10 rating for Tennessee

8. Tennessee

downtown Nashville, Tennessee

Heart disease and cancer are leading causes of death in Tennessee. | Sean Pavone/iStock/Getty Images

  • Life expectancy: 76.3 years

Like nearly every state on the list, Tennessee lags behind the national average for black life expectancy. At 72.9 years on average, Tennessee’s blacks are nearly two years short of the national black average (74.6). Also like most states on this list, heart disease and cancer are the leading causes of death, and it appears that trend will continue. As the CDC notes in its most recent prevention status report, a lack of obesity prevention and funding for tobacco control are two areas where Tennessee is severely behind.

Next: The Bluegrass State has the blues.

7. Kentucky

city scene

Kentucky has a high rate of respiratory disease deaths. | iStock/Getty Images

  • Life expectancy: 76 years

If you live in Kentucky, you just seem destined not to live as long as other Americans. Blacks in the state live 73.5 years. Could it be something in the air? The No. 3 cause of death is from chronic lower respiratory diseases, according to the CDC. In Kentucky, 7.2% of the people die from respiratory diseases. The national average is 5.6%, and just two other states are as bad or worse in that category.

Next: One of the worst states for people of color

6. Arkansas

Eureka Springs, Arkansas

White residents of Arkansas live over two years shorter than average. | RoschetzkyIstockPhoto/iStock/Getty Images

  • Life expectancy: 76 years

When it comes to life expectancy for blacks, only Washington, D.C., rates worse than Arkansas’ 72.2 years. The white population doesn’t necessarily fare much better at 76.3, which is more than two years behind the national white life expectancy rate. It could be people in Arkansas just can’t get the health care they need. At 53,179 square miles and home to just 74 hospitals, that equates to one hospital for every 718 square miles.

Next: All is not OK in this state.

5. Oklahoma

oklahoma city

Oklahoma has a poor life expectancy for white residents. | Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

  • Life expectancy: 75.9 years

Good news if you live in Oklahoma — your rate of death from cancer is lower than the national average. Unfortunately, that’s the end of the good news. The state is tied for second worst in life expectancy for whites (76), a group that makes up nearly 75% of the population. The percentages of death from heart disease (25.7%), respiratory diseases (7.2%), and diabetes (3.3%) are all above the national averages. Yikes.

Next: Heading down South again

4. Louisiana

Dusk falls over Bourbon Street in the French Quarter of New Orleans, 11 July 2006, almost one year after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city. For tourists strolling through the French Quarter it's easy to forget that Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans a year ago. The beignets are fresh, trinkets and designer clothes are artfully arranged in shop windows, and hurricanes are spinning in the bars on Bourbon Street. But while the music, food and good times have come back, the crowds have not and the city is struggling to make ends meet while its main industry remains crippled. With more than 10 million visitors a year, tourism was once a 5.5 billion dollar industry in New Orleans, accounting for 40 percent of the city's tax revenues and employing 85,000 people. (Photo by Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

Despite hospital access residents have one of the worst life expectancy rates. | Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

  • Life expectancy: 75.7 years

Despite having access to 122 hospitals, one of the higher numbers in the country, Louisiana residents still have one of the worst life expectancy rates. Both whites (76.7 years) and blacks (72.4 years) lag more than two years behind national levels. The state has a slightly higher incidence of heart disease (24.3%) but falls in line with national trends in most other areas. Already one of the worst states for children, Louisiana earns another knock it surely doesn’t want when it comes to life expectancy.

Next: The state with the highest rate of death

3. West Virginia

Sunset at the New River Gorge Bridge in West Virginia

West Virginia’s rate of death is the worst in the country. | BackyardProduction/iStock/Getty Images

  • Life expectancy: 75.4 years

Though not the worst in life expectancy, West Virginia is dead last in the rate of death. The state sees 1,199 deaths per 100,000 people, or close to 12%. It also has the worst life expectancy for whites, who live just 75.4 years on average. Whites make up more than 93% of the population, which is one reason why the state ranks so bad. The rates of death from lower respiratory diseases (7.1%) and diabetes (3.7%) are substantially higher than the national averages of 5.6% and 2.9%, respectively.

Next: The first of side-by-side states at the top of the list

2. Alabama

scene of downtown Huntsville, Alabama

Opioid addiction is a severe problem in Alabama. | iStock/Getty Images

  • Life expectancy: 75.4 years

If you live in Alabama, your cause of death is likely to be the same as anywhere else in the country. Only in death by heart disease (24.8%) does Alabama top the national average. Unfortunately, you still have one of the worst life expectancy rates in the land. Alabama is tied with Kentucky and Oklahoma for the second worst life expectancy among whites (76 years). Alabama is also one of the most opioid-addicted states in the U.S. At least the average lifespan for blacks (72.9 years) falls outside the top five.

Next: Alabama’s neighbor nabs the worst rating.

1. Mississippi

Jackson, Mississippi

The obesity and infant mortality rates factor into the low life expectancy in Mississippi. | SeanPavonePhoto/iStock/Getty Images

  • Life expectancy: 75 years

Mississippi is in the top 5 worst states in life expectancy for whites (76.1) and blacks (72.4). Because those two groups compose 97% of the population, Mississippi takes top honors on this list. Mississippi has slightly higher incidences of heart disease (24.7%) and diabetes (3.3%), but it’s just an overall lack of health that does in the state. As the Mississippi Public Health Institute notes, prevalent obesity, lack of activity, and a high infant mortality rate are all factors for the state’s spot at the top of the list.

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