La Cañada tops county's life expectancy list

La Cañada Flintridge topped the list of average life expectancies in Los Angeles County, according to a report released this week.

La Cañadans can expect to live an average life span of 87.8 years — 4.1 years longer than La Crescenta-Montrose residents (ranked 12th), 4.9 years longer than Glendale residents (ranked 22nd) and 6.6 years longer than Burbank residents (ranked 37th), according the report by the Los Angeles County Department of Health

Robert Stanley, director of community development for La Cañada Flintridge, attributed the results to multiple factors, including a weekly farmers market, walkable streets and effective public education. The city also maintains an extensive trails system, safe parks and sports fields, he added.

"If you look at this community, we have a lot of open space," Stanley said. "[The City Council] has dedicated a lot of effort and resources to getting those open spaces."

Average life expectancy is a fundamental measurement of the health of a population, Jonathan Fielding, the county's director of public health, said in a summary of the report.

Overall, the life expectancy in L.A. County has risen from 75.8 years in 1991 to 80.3 years in 2006, the most recent year for which data is available. Nevertheless, there remain "sobering" disparities, Fielding said.

"While life expectancy gains have been seen across genders and each of the four largest racial groups in the county, substantial disparities continue to exist," Fielding said.

There is a nearly 18-year difference in life expectancy between black males and Asian and Pacific Islander females, or 69.4 years and 86.9 years, respectively, according to the report.

The No. 1 cause of premature death among men and women in L.A. County was coronary heart disease, according to the report, followed by homicide and motor vehicle accidents for men, and breast cancer and motor vehicle accidents for women.

The social and economic environment of a community is a critical factor in the health of its residents, experts said. Individuals who live close to fresh produce markets, reliable health care resources, safe parks and other public facilities can expect to live longer, said Dr. Michael Cousineau, assistant professor of research at the USC Keck School of Medicine.

Cities can foster a healthy environment, he added, by establishing strong development guidelines that do everything from limiting fast food restaurants to protecting open spaces.

"Let's look at zoning codes and land use regulations that make it easier to develop green space that can promote healthy lifestyle," Cousineau said. "Developers often can be pressured to construct and build in the neighborhood in a way that facilitates good health."

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