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Life Expectancy and Causes of Death Differ Dramatically Across Cities in Latin America

men in Latin America selling fruit

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA, January 25, 2021


A recent study published in Nature Medicine found that the life expectancies of Latin American city dwellers depend on which city they live in, so much so that a difference of nearly 14 years in life expectancy exists when comparing cities in the region. The publication also highlights the differences in the causes of death across these cities.

This research from the Salud Urbana en América Latina (SALURBAL) project highlights pronounced variability in lifespans across 363 cities in 9 countries of the region. According to the study, average life expectancy among women living in these cities can vary by more than 8 years (from 74.4 years to 82.7 years), and nearly 14 years among men (from 63.5 years to 77.4 years).

“We found that cities on the higher end of longevity in Latin America have life expectancies similar to those of high-income countries. On the other end, some cities had life expectancies similar to lower-middle-income countries, especially in men,” says lead researcher, Dr. Usama Bilal.

Additionally, some cities had many more deaths from violence than others, ranging from less than 1% of deaths caused by violence to 20% of deaths from violence.

The study also found that specific factors were linked with higher or lower life expectancy and causes of death. Cities with higher levels of education, better access to water and sanitation, and more adequate housing were more likely to have a higher life expectancy and fewer deaths from infectious diseases including respiratory infections.

“Studies like this are important because they can help us to understand the health consequences of urban planning and urban social policy decisions. This evidence can guide policymakers to look beyond the healthcare sector to make decisions that improve health in cities,” says Dr. Ana Diez Roux, Principal Investigator of the SALURBAL project.

The insights produced by this research represent another step towards identifying urban and health policies and interventions to promote health in Latin American cities and in the growing urban areas of the world.

To access an interactive dashboard with data, maps and graphics click here.

Urban Health in Latin America (SALURBAL) is a research project that studies how urban policies and city environments affect the health of Latin Americans. The results of this project will serve as a reference to inform future policies and interventions to make cities healthier, more equitable and environmentally sustainable throughout the world. SALURBAL is funded by the Wellcome Trust.

Nature Medicine is a monthly journal publishing original peer-reviewed research in all areas of medicine based on its originality, timeliness, interdisciplinary interest, and impact on improving human health.

In addition to Bilal and Diez Roux, the other authors of the research include Philipp Hessel (Colombia), Carolina Perez Ferrer (Mexico), Yvonne Michael (USA), Tania Alfaro (Chile), Janeth Tenorio-Mucha (Peru), Amelia Augusta de Friche (Brazil), Maria Fatima Pina (Brazil), Alejandra Vives (Chile), Harrison Quick (USA), Marcio Alazraqui (Argentina), Daniel Rodriguez (USA), and J. Jaime Miranda (Peru.)

For more information, maps and graphs contact Andrea Bolinaga at