Well, this isn't particularly surprising, but at least we have it confirmed in the form of a shiny map. The American South, culinary birthplace of buttermilk biscuits, chicken fried steak, and putting gravy on everything, is also the unhealthy part of our nation, according to one measure in a study published yesterday.
Much research has been done on the regional health disparities in the U.S., with the South long known for lacking in the physical wellness department. But these researchers from Stanford caught our attention with how granularly they took their health measurement, looking county by county at "premature mortality" -- i.e., the probability that you will die before 70. Hence, we get a color-coded map telling you, based on the county you live in (and your race), the chance you have of seeing a grandchild graduate from college. (Sorry for being so morbid, but this is death we're talking about.)
The first thing to note is the incredible (and awful) disparity between whites and blacks. The gap in premature mortality between the two races is an average 17 percentage points in counties for males and 12 percent for females. The map at the top shows whites; the map for blacks, which has less data, is shown below.
But the South doesn't have a higher mortality rate solely because of its racial makeup. It's not even because the South is, errr, inherently Southern, and thus unhealthy. "[W]e have shown that geographic disparities are not primarily inherent in location, but are best understood as related to disparities in education, occupations, and the like which are strongly associated with outcome in every county we studied—large, small, urban, rural, southern or not." Which suggests that increases in educational and economic opportunity will help the South stay healthier. So we guess we can keep the grits on our plates.