Americans have experienced the first life expectancy decline in over two decades. Given the amount of money America spends on healthcare, many people find this baffling. So what’s behind this sudden drop i life expectancy?
Two decades ago the drop in life expectancy was due to the AIDS epidemic, the flu epidemic, homicides, and accidental deaths. All these things have made serious advances- there are treatments for preventing HIV from becoming full-blown AIDS, things like seatbelts and airbags have dramatically decreased accidental deaths, homicides have declined steadily, and there is a widely available flu vaccine. Unfortunately there are always new health problems to tackle.
Heart disease and cancer are on the rise, as are things like chronic respiratory illnesses and strokes. One thing that is actually thought to be caused by the healthcare system is the sudden spike in accidental deaths from prescription opioid abuse, which often leads to heroin use.
At the forefront of most medical problems these days is the obesity epidemic. More people than ever before are obese, which can lead to chronic health problems like Type II diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and some cancers. Today one out of three Americans are obese, earning America the top spot in worldwide obesity. Australia and the United Kingdom are the closest runners-up, each trailing America by over five percentage points.
So what’s behind this obesity epidemic? Nearly 60% of the food Americans consume is high-calorie, low-nutrition ultra processed food-like substances. Only about 30% of the American diet comes from fresh or unprocessed foods. Because America is first in the world in obesity, the country is 28th in the world for life expectancy.
There also seems to be a disparity between wealthy and poor Americans when it comes to health and life expectancy. The poorest group of American men can expect to live to 76.1 years, a decrease from 76.2 years in 1980, while the wealthiest group of American men can expect to live to see 88.8 years old, a drastic increase from 82.6 years in 1980. Women have seen similar drastic changes in life expectancy in America depending on their social stature. The poorest women in America have seen their life expectancy decreased from 82.5 years in 1980 to 78.3 years today. In the same time frame the wealthiest women have seen their life expectancies increase from 86.1 years to 91.9 years.
Learn more about American life expectancy from this infographic!