Life Expectancy, USA

U.S. Life Expectancy Down For First Time In Almost A Century

A new study revealed that in 2007, the U.S. was seriously behind when it came to life expectancy. Canada and Japan have enjoyed increases in life expectancy every year, yet the States’ numbers actually reversed — for the first time since the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918! The Florida coast, California, Hawaii and the Northeast are doing pretty well, but there are counties sprinkled in everywhere which appear to be struggling; in fact, eight out of every 10 counties are lagging when it comes to keeping pace with health statistics.

Girls born in 2007 can expect to live to 81, on average, and boys to just past 75. Japan and Iceland both offer better outcomes, at over 86 for women (the highest worldwide) and over 80 for boys in Iceland. Overall, the U.S. stands in 37th place, behind many developed countries like France, Germany, Netherlands, Austria, Greece, Italy, Canada and Japan.

Generally, life expectancy increases year over year as nutrition and living conditions improve worldwide; however, the decline seen in the U.S. puts it up to a whopping 50 years behind leading countries termed the “international frontier.” The life expectancy in the U.S. is only falling in a handful of counties, yet it is also not increasing — like it is in the counties of the international frontier. The U.S. is a leader in medicine and industrialization — why is life expectancy not rising with our perceived improvement in life quality?

The lowest numbers for men are in a country of Mississippi, at just below 66, and 73.5 for women in the same region. Experts believe that these dismal numbers — the first decrease since the early 1900’s — are due to a lack of preventative care. Many don’t have health insurance, delaying visits to the doctor and not having adequate education or resources to live healthy in the times between. Appalachia, the Deep South and Texas have some of the lowest life expectancies in the country.

Flu shots, breast examinations and colonoscopies may save a lot of lives, but some people don’t have the means to get these done; until the disparity of health care is narrowed, these procedures may be lacking for certain populations. This study may make policy-makers in the States take heed, but until then it is up to families themselves to take healthy living into their hands — a healthy food movement may be the answer, as good-quality fresh fruits and vegetables can provide the ‘preventative care’ physicians say is lacking. Check out your county in the maps below, and skip the MickyD’s next time. You can find full-size maps at the end of the study.

All images: liber/Flickr, study

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2 thoughts on “U.S. Life Expectancy Down For First Time In Almost A Century

  1. A couple of corrections:

    There is a difference between life expectancy falling and life expectancy not rising as fast as the “international frontier.” The study you reference emphasizes the latter, and CBS News, reporting on the study, emphasized data buried in an appendix that purports to show approximately 1 in 4 U.S. counties had a drop in life expectancy. [some do; I did not count them all]. That implies that 3 in 4 stayed the same or improved, and indeed, for insured lives anyway, actuaries continue to see and project improvements in life expectancy on the whole for the U.S.

    So it appears to be untrue that U.S. life expectancy is dropping in aggregate. What the data do appear to show is that the aggregate improvement in the U.S. is lagging the improvement of the “international frontier”, which is defined as a moving-target, time-series of the ten best countries (mortality-wise) in the world. They are both improving, albeit at different rates. It’s a subtle, but important, distinction.

    Also, “flue” is not an abbreviation for influenza, “flu” is.

    Finally, I do not know where you got the information about the numbers reversing for the first time since 1918; I cannot find any instance of “1918” or “Spanish” in the PDF article nor its appendix.

    1. Hi Carl,

      Thanks for the corrections — that “flue” thing was a weird quirk I didn’t catch. I’ve also linked the source for the mention of 1918, it actually appears in several articles on the topic.

      I’ve added a bit to make it clear that the U.S. isn’t necessarily reversing it’s life expectancy, yet it is also not keeping up with the international frontier. Thanks for pointing that out, I didn’t mean for this to be fear mongering, but the numbers are there.

      I appreciate your keen eye,


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