U.S. life expectancy gains fall behind other developed countries

u.s. longevity rates

A new report shows U.S. life expectancy gains have been eclipsed by many countries, thanks to an epidemic of heart disease and obesity. Image: CC Adam Jones, Ph.D/Flickr

U.S. life expectancy increased at a slower rate than other developed countries, according to a new survey. Despite more health care spending than any country in the world, both men and women in the U.S. have fallen behind in life expectancy gains. Heart disease and obesity have been identified as the primary culprits in the drag on U.S. life expectancy.

U.S. life expectancy performs poorly

U.S. life expectancy gains were described as a “poor performance” by authors of a study published by the National Research Council on Tuesday. Men in the U.S. gained 5.5 years in life expectancy from 1980 to 2006, less than men in 21 other countries. For women in the U.S., life expectancy increased about three years during the same period. Many developed countries have overtaken the U.S. in overall life expectancy as well as the key metric: years of life past age 50. For example, additional life expectancy for U.S. women at age 50 is 33.1 years. For women in Japan, Australia, Sweden and Switzerland, it’s 35.5 on average. Life expectancy for U.S. men after age 50 is 1 to 1.5 years shorter.

The U.S. disease care system

U.S. life expectancy is a lagging indicator. Most of the damage to U.S. longevity rates occurred many years ago. Smoking’s impact on mortality can take three decades to become evident. Smoking was identified as a key factor for lower life expectancy in U.S. women compared to other countries. The U.S. ranked high in cancer screening and heart attack survival. However, about 50 percent of the difference in life expectancy between the U.S. and countries with higher longevity rates was due to heart disease, according to the report. The U.S. health care system was characterized as a “disease care system.”

World’s most sedentary nation

Obesity may account for one-fifth to one-third of the lag in U.S. life expectancy compared with other countries. According to the report, the U.S. and Poland topped a list of the world’s most sedentary countries, followed by Italy, England and Spain, according to the report. The consequences of obesity include diabetes, stroke and heart disease. The report suggested that although smoking is on the decline in the U.S., the country’s obesity epidemic could reverse a 50-year trend of steadily increasing life expectancy.


Los Angeles Times

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