US Life Expectancy Drops

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As Debate on Universal Health Insurance Rages U.S. Drops Lower in Life Expectancy

To solve the problem with healthcare and access to affordable health insurance in the states it is often suggested that we adopt a European or Canadian style universal healthcare system. When arguing such a position, advocates of Universal Healthcare are quick to point out that life expectancy in the states lags behind that of other industrialized nations that have such health insurance for all systems in place. And although American longevity in general is increasing, we have just taken another dip in the ratings, according to a recent report.

According to numbers released by the National Center for Health Statistics, forty-one countries now have life expectancies that exceed the US. Including Japan and many European nations, but also Guam, the Cayman Islands and. Jordan.

The head of the Institute for Health Metrics that produced the report said in effect that there is something not right when one of the wealthiest nations on the planet, the country that throws the most money at healthcare, cannot keep pace with other countries in terms of life expectancy. The report stated that infants born here in 2004 should live to be around 78 years old. That drops the US to life expectancy of 42nd in the rankings, which is a drop in 31 positions from a ranking just shy of the top 10, (we were 11th on the list) only two decades earlier. 

The framers of the report admit that there are several factors that have lead to America dropping below other westernized countries. Yet they believe steadfastly that the primary reason is the fact that 47 million Americans are without medical insurance as opposed to universal healthcare insurance in place in Canada and several countries in Europe.

The other main contributing factor? The US has one of the top rates of obesity globally. With nearly one-third of adults over the age of 20 clinically obese and almost two thirds considered overweight. Combine people at greater risk for diabetes, heart disease, and stroke with a lack of access to affordable medical coverage, and it is literally an “accident waiting to happen”. 

Perhaps even more disturbing, the report recently published in The Washington Post says that forty countries, including Cuba, Taiwan and most of Europe had lower infant mortality rates than the US.

The study concluded that improved access to affordable health insurance could increase life expectancy. But, the report also said it was unlikely the US will move up in the world rankings as long as the healthcare debate is limited only to issues involving health insurance. Policy makers need to also focus on improving American’s lifestyle, such as stepped-up efforts to reduce tobacco use, control blood pressure, reduce cholesterol and regulate blood sugar.

Sub-Saharan Africa had life expectancies that were shortest. Not surprising in an area hit by famine, civil war and an AIDS epidemic. Swaziland has the shortest, at 34.1 years, followed by Zambia, Angola, Liberia and Zimbabwe.

Where can you expect to live the longest? According to the report head for Andorra, a tiny country in the Pyrenees Mountains between France and Spain, where the life expectancy, is 83.5 years, followed by Japan, Macau, San Marino and Singapore.