BLOCK: Ali Mokdad is a professor of global health at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. That's the institute that did the study. And Professor Mokdad, you're now looking at these numbers trying to understand what's going on. Were you surprised by these findings?
ALI MOKDAD: Yes, we were. We were very surprised with the finding, although we have seen finds from previous work that we have done. The scope of the disparity was in the United States and how we compared to the rest of world was very surprising for all of us here.
BLOCK: And let's look broadly at that disparity. If you look at the United States compared with other countries in life expectancy, where do we fall?
MOKDAD: We are number 37 compared to the world, unfortunately.
BLOCK: So, 37th among all countries in the world?
BLOCK: When you look at the reasons behind that disparity, what would some of the reasons be?
MOKDAD: And the fourth one, which is really the most important, is our risk factors. These are preventable risk factors, such as smoking, obesity, poor diet, lack of physical activity. And unfortunately in this country, women are more likely to be obese. Women picked up smoking after men and they're paying for it right now. And we have found out from previous research that women, once diagnosed with blood pressure and cholesterol, they don't do as good as men in controlling these conditions.
BLOCK: You actually find that in more than 300 counties in the United States, life expectancy declined over 20 years for women. Are these problems getting worse?
MOKDAD: Policies such as having roads that are safe for me to exercise. And I don't mean safety, crime; I mean not being hit by a car. Policies with the restaurants or the food outlets that I have should have a healthy option for me at a reasonable price, where I could go and buy fresh fruits and vegetables. Policy in place where smoking should be banned from public places.
BLOCK: You can look at these numbers, Professor Mokdad, and feel pretty gloomy about the health of this country and our mortality overall. Is that the message we should be taking from this?
MOKDAD: The paper should not be viewed as a stamp on our forehead that this is our life expectancy. The paper should be viewed as a wake-up call for all of us to work on prevention and improve our health and our life expectancy.
BLOCK: Professor Mokdad, thank you very much.
MOKDAD: You're quite welcome. Thank you.
BLOCK: Ali Mokdad is a professor of global health at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, that's at the University of Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.