_PUBLIC HEALTH Epidemiology

_Lifespans in Latin America

A study of life expectancy in Latin America highlights the need for policies that improve circumstances for the region's poorest neighborhoods.

_Ana V. Diez Roux

Diez Roux is dean and distinguished University professor of Epidemiology in the Dornsife School of Public Health and director of the Drexel Urban Health Collaborative.

_Usama Bilal

Usama Bilal is an assistant professor in the Urban Health Collaborative and the Department of Epidemiology & Biostatistics in the Dornsife School of Public Health.

A study from the Dornsife School of Public Health found wide-ranging differences in lifespans in six major Latin American cities; in particular, researchers found higher differences in life expectancy at birth within cities than among cities.

For example, in Santiago, Chile residents of the areas with the highest life expectancy live 18 years longer, on average, than residents of areas with the lowest life expectancy.

“Inequality harms everyone,” says lead author and Assistant Professor Usama Bilal.

Mapping Mortality

Life expectancy varies significantly by neighborhood within Mexico City. Drastic variations within cities were common in the metro areas studied.

The findings, published in The Lancet Planetary Health from researchers at the Salud Urbana en América Latina (SALURBAL), or Urban Health in Latin America project at Drexel Dornsife School of Public Health, are the latest among growing efforts by the group to evaluate how environment and public policies influence the health of the 80 percent of Latin Americans who reside in cities.

Researchers calculated life expectancy at birth by gender for six metropolitan locations — Buenos Aires; Belo Horizonte, Brazil; Santiago, Chile; San Jose, Costa Rica; Mexico City; and Panama City. They did this by mining each country’s census and vital registration data for stats on socioeconomic status measures, death rates, gender and other population metrics.

The health disparities across neighborhoods in Latin American cities coincide with other inequalities. Among the 20 countries in the world with the highest wealth gap, eight of them are within Latin America.

“These stark differences in health across neighborhoods arise from differences in social circumstances and physical environments that can be addressed through policy,” says SALURBAL principal investigator Ana V. Diez Roux, dean of the Dornsife School of Public Health. “They highlight how health is affected by much more than health care.”