Simply living in the U.S. causes people to live two fewer years than those in Europe and other high-income countries, according to a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics. The major cause of this gap is reportedly a combination of drugs, guns, and cars.
The study, which was recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, compared U.S. death rates from 2012 to the death rates of countries of similar economies. Many European nations such as the U.K. and Germany were used in the comparison, as well as prosperous Asian countries such as Japan.
In general, Americans had a life expectancy of 76.4 years for men and 81.2 years for women. In the comparison countries, the life expectancy was 78.6 and 83.4 years, respectively. Further parsing of the data found that the biggest gap in life expectancy showed up between ages 25 and 65, essentially young-through-middle-aged adulthood.
As for what keeps killing Americans earlier than peers abroad, injuries were found to be the leading cause of death for Americans between ages one and 44. Within this category are the three culprits responsible for most of the deaths: drug poisonings, gun injuries, and car crashes. Combined, these elements resulted in a reducing an American man’s life expectancy by a full year and a woman’s life expectancy by half a year.
The study did not try to break down the forms of injury past these categories, but Andrew Fenelon, the senior author, has some suspicions. Car crash injuries are overwhelmingly accidental. The drug poisonings are likely to be from prescription opioids and heroin, either due to accidental overdose or suicides. Firearms would be a mixture of accidental, suicide, and homicide, with the latter two being more represented.
Although doctors and other health officials have known for some time that Americans have shorter life expectancies compared to similarly developed countries, the study helps narrow both the exact severity of the difference and some of the more prominent causes. Past research has focused on narrower groups, such as the growing trend of suicides among white, middle-aged men—one of the groups of Americans that has been seeing a decline in life expectancy over the past 15 years or so.
It is also important to note that the injury category only accounts for part—albeit a large part—of the discrepancy. Smoking-related deaths and a higher infant mortality rate also play a role. By looking at what the United States is or isn’t doing differently compared to other countries, it is hoped that individuals will be able to live longer and more in line with international averages.
Sources for Today’s Article:
Fenelon, A., et al., Major Causes of Injury Death and the Life Expectancy Gap Between the United States and Other High-Income Countries, Journal of the American Medical Association 315, no. 2016; http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=2488300&resultClick=3.