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Monday, October 7, 2019

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RI Life Expectancy Project examines disparities among state’s cities and towns

Rhode Island life expectancy by city and town
Rhode Island life expectancy by city and town. The Rhode Island Life Expectancy Project ranks municipalities on 50-plus factors related to overall well-being. (Rhode Island Life Expectancy Project)

Compared to other states, Rhode Islanders live relatively long and healthy lives. However, according to a new study conducted at the University of Rhode Island’s new Department of Health Studies, part of the College of Health Sciences, disparities still exist – even within our 1,214 square miles.
The Rhode Island Life Expectancy Project is a landmark effort to examine and highlight how Rhode Islanders’ health and well-being are affected by where they live and work. Led by Steven A. Cohen, assistant professor of health studies, the research team analyzed data from the Rhode Island Department of Health, the U.S. Census Bureau’s decennial census and its American Community Survey, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, RI DataHUB and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Click HERE to see the complete dataset on Charlestown
“Rhode Island does extremely well compared to most of the rest of the country; with that said, there is still about an eight-year gap in terms of life expectancy between the highest and the lowest ranking city and town in the state, which is pretty substantial given the population level and that we are not so far apart geographically,” said Cohen.
Among those cities and towns with the highest and lowest life expectancies:

Highest Life Expectancies     (age in years)
Lowest Life Expectancies         (age in years)
New Shoreham
East Greenwich
West Warwick
Central Falls

The study looked at overall life expectancy in each city and town in the state in relation to various social determinants of health. 

Of all the factors analyzed, researchers found the strongest correlations between life expectancy and education, income and crime. 

In addition researchers looked at demographic characteristics such as race, marital status, and population density; environmental and recreational factors such as rural/urban makeup, access to food resources, bike lanes, land used for public recreation; housing and household composition; and economic and employment variables such as length of commute and unemployment rate, among others.
“Out of more than 50 different factors that we analyzed related to well-being, we found that the variable with the strongest correlation to life expectancy was education. The more highly educated a population is, the better population outcomes are – and we found this for every measure of education,” said Cohen.
The study looked at the percentage of population in each city and town that has completed various levels of education, including high school, bachelor’s degree or higher and those with a graduate or professional degree.
Highest Percentage of Adults with College Degrees                        
East Greenwich
South Kingstown

According to Cohen, the website should be viewed as a living repository for data on Rhode Island’s 39 cities and towns, with additional data being added to the site as it becomes available. He expects that the next phase of the study will analyze health claims data across the state in order to examine the types of health services accessed and how they are used as well as outcomes.
“We are looking at this not only as a study – but also as a resource for policymakers, other researchers or anyone with an interest in looking at life expectancy and the factors that help to impact that and our overall health,” said Cohen. 

“There are so many aspects that go into determining population health, but if we have a better understanding of how something like education, or green space, or food resources can affect health and lengthen life at the community level, it gives us additional incentive to do better.”
Led by Cohen, the research team also includes Molly Greaney, associate professor and Department of Health Studies chair; research assistant and recent graduate Julia Broccoli, ’19, of Foxboro, Massachusetts; and Catherine Lenox, ’21, of North Kingstown. The website was built by Pixels for Humans.
The study, including the technical report, data by city and town, heat maps for 50-plus variables analyzed as part of the study, and the entire dataset in a downloadable format can be accessed at