U.S. Life Expectancy Is Trailing behind Other Wealthy Nations

Life Expectancy

The United States has a lower life expectancy than other advanced nations, and the cause seems to be a combination of healthcare inequality and a prevalence of negative lifestyle factors, according to a global study series.

You may recall the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) review that was discussed last week. This was a multi-study, global examination of various health, longevity, and disability metrics across 195 nations. On a global level, life expectancy has gone up, but it seems that the U.S. is not keeping up with the other advanced nations.

Generally speaking, a country’s wealth correlates to its life expectancy and level of healthcare. High income, first world nations are leaders in longevity. The U.S., though still near the top compared to the rest of the world, has been lagging in several key areas compared to its similarly-positioned colleagues. For instance, in 2015:

  • Infant mortality was at six deaths for every 1,000 kids under five (average among high income nations is five deaths)
  • Men had a life expectancy of 76.7 years, with 66.8 being spent in good health (high income nation average was 78.1 and 68.9)
  • Women had a life expectancy of 81.5, with 69.5 years spent in good health (83.4 and 72.2 are high income averages)
  • More new or expecting mothers are dying than now than 25 years ago, which is a reverse of the trends seen everywhere else in the world. Over 1,000 new or expecting mothers died in 2015, but in 1990 there were 670 deaths

The cause for these discrepancies is not entirely unknown. Several factors in the United States were found to be disproportionately contributing to poor health and/or early death.

  • Drug abuse (opioids specifically, with 5x increase in past 25 years) and diabetes are much more prevalent than in other nations
  • Alcohol and smoking were noted as continuing health threats
  • Access to guns was also pointed out
  • Unequal access to healthcare services
  • Unequal access to affordable healthy food

What This Means

The U.S. still has a higher life expectancy than most nations in the world. When compared to countries of similar economic status, however, gaps start to become much more noticeable. The good news is that these other countries can be learned from in order to achieve their same healthcare and longevity successes so that the distance can be closed.

Wang, H., et. al., “Global, regional, and national life expectancy, all-cause mortality, and cause-specific mortality for 249 causes of death, 1980-2015: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2015,” The Lancet, 2016; http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(16)31012-1.
Wang, H., et. al., “Global, regional, national, and selected subnational levels of stillbirths, neonatal, infant, and under-5 mortality, 1980–2015: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2015,” The Lancet, 2016; http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(16)31575-6.