US still lagging in future life expectancy
Friday, February 24, 2017
Despite incredible medical advancements, increased health knowledge and a higher mean income, the United States continues to lag behind other developed countries when it comes to the health of its citizens. In a new study published in The Lancet, researchers examined statistical data from 35 industrialized countries to forecast national age-specific mortality and life expectancy based on birth in 2030.
The researchers discovered that life expectancy is projected to increase globally, with South Korean women leading the way at a predicted 90.82 years. Leading the projections for women were also France (88.6 years), followed by Japan (88.4 years). Countries with high male projections were South Korea again (84.1 years), Australia (84.0 years) and Switzerland (84.0).
Glaringly missing from the top of the list was the United States with women projected at 83.3 years, sitting between Poland and Croatia at 27th out of 35 countries. U.S. men were projected at 79.5 years, between the Czech Republic and Hungary at 26th on the list.
This is the first year that projections were able to breech the 90-year-old barrier, which many experts had believed would never occur. The researchers believe the high projected life expectancy is driven by declines in deaths from infections in children and adults and the postponement of death from chronic illness.
These gains have been attributed to improvements in economic status and social capital, which have improved childhood and adolescent nutrition, expanded access to healthcare and facilitated improvements in new medical technologies. South Korea has also maintained low body-mass indexes and blood pressures in comparison to most Western countries.
The U.S., on the other hand, was one of the most notable poor-performing countries. The researchers noted that lower projected countries tend to have higher social inequalities and that the "USA is the only country in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) without universal health coverage and the largest share of unmet healthcare needs due to financial costs."
Although the U.S. made great strides in life expectancy with the advent of antibiotics, vaccinations, improved sanitation and access to clean water, these growths have been stagnant and falling behind other nations since the 1970s.
A 2016 Hamilton Project Report noted that although there had been strong gains among Americans in life expectancy, major disparities still existed — especially linked to income and age. While young and nonwhites continued to see improvements, some older lower-income populations have seen stagnation or even rising death rates. It is speculated that the deterioration may be associated with increases in suicide, and alcohol and drug abuse.
While The Lancet report highlights public health and healthcare successes, it also introduces potential new needs and problems. With a population growing older, health and social care systems will need to be strengthened and alternatives considered.
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