A baby girl born in 2007 in the United States can expect to live til she’s 80.
A baby girl born in Japan in 2007, in contrast, can expect to live to 86.
The truth is the United States is nowhere near the top of the list in life expectancy, despite spending the most money on health care per capita in the industrialized world.
Why the discrepancy?
That’s the question raised yesterday by a National Research Council study which shows life expectancy in the US increasing much more slowly than that of Japan, France, Canada and many other industrialized countries.
Researchers found several factors working against Americans. The biggest factor was smoking, which America embraced in the mid-to-late 20th century. While smoking rates have declined and many former smokers gave up the habit decades ago, this group is still vulnerable to a variety of cancers and other diseases.
Another factor is is obesity, as high fat diets and sedentary lifestyles catch up to aging bodies. Yet another possible factor is lack of a comprehensive primary health care system for all, although this levels out after age 65 due to Medicare.
Other possible contributors include relative strength or weakness of individuals’ social networks, the possible negative effects of hormone therapy for women, and the inequality in socioeconomic standards.
There is good news on the horizon, however. Since smoking levels have dropped in the last several decades, the impact of previous smoking habits on health should be felt less and less. However, obesity continues to rise, and may pose a greater threat to life expectancies than even smoking once did.
It remains to be seen what impact universal health care will have on these numbers – at the very least, the presence of a primary health care system may help catch curable diseases that may be missed under the current system.
Photo credit: Boris Bartels via Flickr