U.S. Life Expectancy - Is it rising more slowly than other developed nations?

While projected life span within the United States is at an all-time high of 78 years and two months, new research shows that projections have actually fallen in hundreds of U. S. counties.  In addition, life expectancy within the U. S. has risen more slowly than in other developed nations.

A recent study published in the online journal, Population Health Metrics, determined that life expectancy for women dropped significantly in 702 of 3009 counties within the United States, and it fell in 251 counties for men.  For both men and women, life expectancy fell in 158 counties.  The largest declines occurred in the South - specifically in Mississippi, Oklahoma and Kentucky. 

Inhabitants of at least 20 developed nations - including Canada, Iceland, Switzerland, Sweden and Japan - have a higher life expectancy than people in the United States.  In fact, women and children in Japan can expect to outlive American counterparts by up to five years.  Between European and American women and children, the gap is smaller but increasing. 

In the past, life expectancy projections relied heavily on trends in mortality, but new forecasts are based on an analysis of body mass and other factors that can affect the health.  Experts largely attribute the decline in U. S. life expectancy to unhealthy lifestyle choices, particularly cigarette smoking, overeating and inadequate physical exercise.   In fact, current obesity rates among children and young adults in the U. S. are soaring.  According to some experts, over the next twenty to thirty years, life expectancy for Americans could decrease by as much as five years if these rates are not reduced.

Research suggests that an alarming two-thirds of American adults are overweight, with a BMI of 25 or higher!  One study determined that obesity among U.S. adults has risen by roughly 50 percent per decade since 1980, and there are estimates of approximately 300,000 deaths per year attributed to obesity within the U.S.  Severely obese individuals, with a BMI higher than 45, can expect to take up to 20 years off life expectancy as compared to people who are not overweight.  Obesity also contributes to the current onslaught of type 2 diabetes within the United States which can also have an effect on lifespan.

The government is stepping up efforts for improved health among all Americans with educational programs related to cigarette smoking and obesity and better medical treatment.  In March of 2004, the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) introduced Healthy Lifestyles and Disease Prevention, a public-awareness campaign to educate and encourage families in the United States to adopt a healthier lifestyle. For aging citizens, the National Institute on Aging has developed a free guide to exercise which can be found at http://www.nia.nih.gov.


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