Life expectancy in the United States is falling further behind that of other wealthy nations, a Washington Post study has revealed.
"Among wealthy nations, the United States in recent decades went from the middle of the pack to being an outlier. And it continues to fall further and further behind," the Post's year-long examination of life expectancy stated.
In 2021, according to the CDC, life expectancy in the United States reached 76.4, the lowest since the mid-1990s.
The pandemic amplified a racial gap in life expectancy that had been narrowing in prior decades, the Post observed. In 2021, life expectancy for Native Americans was 65 years; for Black Americans, 71; for white Americans, 76; for Hispanic Americans, 78; and for Asian Americans, 84.
Japan had the highest life expectancy in the world, followed by South Korea, Singapore, Switzerland, Spain, Norway, Finland, Italy, Sweden, and Iceland.
"It is a paradox that confounds the world: The United States is among the wealthiest nations in history, and yet its citizens die earlier than those in some poorer nations," the Post noted.
The newspaper conducted a study of people aged between 35 and 64 in America and found that the greatest threats to mortality in that group were chronic ailments like heart disease, liver disease, cancer, and diabetes, not opioids and gun violence. The analysis focused on people aged 35 to 64 because that group has the greatest number of excess deaths compared with peer nations, according to the Post.
The Post compared death rates for people living in the poorest 10% of counties to the rates for those living in the wealthiest 10% of counties over the past four decades. The newspaper interviewed scores of clinicians, patients, and researchers, and analyzed county-level death records from the past five decades.
In a quarter of the nation’s counties, mostly in the South and Midwest, working-age people are dying at a higher rate than they were 40 years ago, the Post found.
Forty years ago, small towns and rural regions were healthier for adults in the prime of life. The reverse is now true. Urban death rates have declined sharply, while rates outside the country’s largest metro areas flattened and then rose. Just before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, adults aged 35 to 64 in the most rural areas were 45% more likely to die each year than people in the largest urban centers.
People in urban areas have access to good hospitals and doctors and are expected to live longer than those in rural areas or isolated small towns, where medical care is often difficult to find.
There is a shortage of primary care doctors in America. While the U.S. is at the cutting edge when it comes to technology, pharmaceutical development, and treatments, much more needs to be done at the prevention level, according to experts.
"Breakthroughs in technology, medicine and nutrition that should be boosting average life spans have instead been overwhelmed by poverty, racism, distrust of the medical system, fracturing of social networks and unhealthy diets built around highly processed food," researchers told the Post.
In 1990, 11.6% of adults in America were obese. Now, that figure is 41.9%, according to the CDC.
The rate of obesity-related deaths among adults aged 35 to 64 doubled between 1979 and 2000, then doubled again between 2000 and 2019.
Obesity is one reason progress against heart disease, after accelerating between 1980 and 2000, has slowed, experts say. Obesity is poised to overtake tobacco as the No. 1 preventable cause of cancer, according to Otis Brawley, an oncologist and epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University.
Diabetic and overweight patients are benefiting from new drugs such as Ozempic and Wegovy, which improve blood-sugar control and can lead to a sharp reduction in weight. But insurance companies, slow to see obesity as a disease, often decline to pay for the drugs for people who do not have diabetes, the Post noted.
Meanwhile, roughly one person in seven among middle-aged Americans still smokes, according to the CDC.
Smoking, poor diets, inadequate insurance, minimal preventive care, and lack of universal health coverage all contribute to lower life expectancy in America.
Life expectancy can be a confusing statistic, the Post noted. "Life expectancy is a wide-angle snapshot of average death rates for people in different places or age groups. It is typically expressed as life expectancy at birth, but the number does not cling to a person from the cradle as if it were a prediction. And if a country has an average life expectancy at birth of 79 years, that doesn’t mean a 78-year-old has only a year to live."
"However confusing it may be, the life expectancy metric is a reasonably good measure of a nation’s overall health. And America’s is not very good," the Post concluded.
Peter Malbin, a Newsmax writer, covers news and politics. He has 30 years of news experience, including for the New York Times, New York Post and Newsweek.com.
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