Washington state’s health department just released some mortality statistics for 2004. And there’s quite a bit of good news: for Washington residents, 2004 was the healthiest year ever. Life expectancy—the number of years a newborn can expect to live, given the year’s mortality patterns—surged by more than 7 months, an unusually large jump. For the first time ever, the average infant’s life expectancy in the state topped 79 years: baby girls could expect 81.6 years of life; baby boys, 76.9 years.

Another bright spot: vehicle fatalities declined. The risk of dying in a car crash in Washington is at its lowest point since the health department started keeping records: holding population structure constant, crash risk has declined by more than half since 1980. 

Of course, British Columbia maintained its health lead, with substantially higher life expectancy and lower crash risk than Washington. But the gap, at least for life expectancy, seems to have narrowed a bit.

Of course, it’s worth noting that we’ll have to wait another full year to find out whether these health trends held up during 2005.  And we’ll have to wait even longer for information for Oregon and Idaho. Apparently, we Americans do a far better job of tracking our financial health (GDP, unemployment, wages, and the like) than our physical health. Which may be one reason that the US is among the richest nations in the developed world—but also one of the least healthy.