Although lifespans have increased over the past few decades, there are stark geographic differences in how long a person can expect to live.

In the United States, there’s a 20-year gap between the counties with the lowest and highest life expectancies, according to a study coordinated by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), an independent population health research center at the UW. Another IHME analysis of King County found that southeast King County residents can expect to live shorter lives, on average, than those living just miles away in Mercer Island and Bellevue — a difference of up to 18 years.

From the environment and food access to income levels and quality of health care, a variety of factors influence a person’s lifespan. Here are a few examples of what University of Washington faculty and staff are doing to better understand these and other factors and improve the length — and quality — of everyone’s lives.

  • Researchers with the UW Department of Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences are studying the links between environmental factors and health outcomes. One study measured the impact of air traffic pollution from Sea-Tac International Airport on surrounding neighborhoods. The department has also collaborated with Washington state agencies and community-based organizations to map how environmental risks vary by neighborhood across the state.
  • A global study from the IHME showed that a child’s chance of surviving to age 5 often varies by region within a country. By illuminating regional differences, the study offers policymakers a better understanding of where to focus their efforts and prevent child deaths.
  • Moving to Health is a collaborative study between the UW’s Center for Public Health Nutrition and Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute, examining how moving to a different neighborhood impacts a person’s health.
  • The Eviction Study found that evictions tend to occur in neighborhoods that are the most racially diverse, with overall eviction rates among black and Latinx adults in the studied areas being almost seven times higher than for white adults.

Help improve health and well-being worldwide

We’re working to address the factors and inequities that impact how long and how well we all live. You can support this vital work by making a donation to the Population Health Initiative.

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