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US Lagging Behind Other Countries in Life Expectancy

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US Lagging Behind Other Countries in Life Expectancy

By: Ilana Siyance

The United States was once able to boast about enjoying longer lives than citizens of other countries.

Unfortunately, this is no longer true.  As per the NY Post, since the 1950’s, life expectancy in the U.S. has been lagging behind many other countries.  New research published recently in the American Journal of Public Health, has shown a steady decline in America’s ranking for life expectancy in comparison to other nations.  In the 1950’s, the U.S. was in 13th place, only behind world powers like Canada and the United Kingdom.  The research shows a slow decline at first, in which by 1968, America had fallen to 29th place, as per the study.   There was improvement in the 1970’s, but then a steady aggressive decline in comparison to other countries, from the 1980’s to 2020.  By 2020, the ranking plunged during the pandemic, and the U.S. was ranked 53rd place in life expectancy.   Citizens from countries like  Albania, Czech Republic, Cuba and Lebanon all are expected to live longer and healthier lives than the average American.

“We may be one of the richest countries in the world, and we certainly outspend every country on health care, but Americans are sicker and die earlier than people in dozens of countries,” study author Steven Woolf said in a news release.  “Even Americans with healthy behaviors, for example, those who are not obese or do not smoke, appear to have higher disease rates than their peers in other countries,” as per the new research.

The fact that the U.S. life expectancy is lagging was already known, but this study is unique because of its expanded scope, where it’s not limited to comparison with just wealthy developed nations.  The new analysis “shows that premature deaths among Americans are a much larger and older public health issue than previously believed,” said Woolf, director emeritus of the Center on Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Currently, the average life expectancy in the US is just below 77 years of age.  This is almost a nine-year improvement from 1950.  Other countries, however, have seen more drastic improvements.  By comparison, Japan, which had ranked 45th place in the 1950s, now ranks in 3rd place. Citizens of Japan are expected to live close to 85 years–  a whole 8 years longer than in the U.S.

The obvious question is why is the life expectancy in the US dropping compared to other countries.  The main causes cited include drug abuse, traffic accidents, lack of health care and gun violence.  “There’s the opioid epidemic, which is clearly ours … other countries didn’t have that because those drugs were more controlled,” Eileen Crimmins, professor of gerontology at the University of Southern California, told NPR.

“Some of the difference comes from the fact that we are more likely to drive more miles,” which leads to more fatal crashes, she added.  Crimmins also noted that a whole “two years difference in life expectancy probably comes from the fact that firearms are so available in the United States.”

There’s some more bad news for New Yorkers. Per the Post, NYS residents had the most dramatic decline in life expectancy within the US in 2020.   Data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed life expectancy for New Yorkers dropped from an average age of 80.7 in 2019 to 77.7 in 2020.   “Over time we’ve seen widening disparities in health trends at the state level,” Woolf said.  “We’ll keep falling behind unless we get serious about policy solutions,” he added.

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