American’s Life Expectancy: Why Are We Falling Behind?


The United States once had the world’s highest life expectancy, and was considered to be the healthiest country in the world, but we have recently been overtaken by other countries due to rising mortality rates across all age groups, especially among children and young adults. What exactly has caused this decline? While no specific factor can be blamed, there are several contributing factors that have led to this unfortunate situation. Here are some of the main reasons why American’s life expectancy is less than those living in other countries around the world.

Leading Causes

It’s no secret that obesity is on a rapid rise in America. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that more than one-third of U.S. adults were obese in 2012, meaning they had a body mass index (BMI) over 30 kg/m2—not to mention, about 17% of children ages 2 to 19 were also considered obese as well as 35% of children aged 6 to 11 years old from low-income families.

Unfortunately, obesity often leads to other major health issues. If a person is overweight or obese they have a higher risk of developing chronic diseases like heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and even cancer than their healthy-weight counterparts. According to current data from CDC, in 2010 more than half of all deaths in America were attributed to heart disease and cancer; nearly 800,000 people died of cardiovascular disease and 589,497 people died of cancer.

Poor Health Habits

The United States has seen a dramatic increase in health issues and chronic diseases, with 1 in 2 adults estimated to have at least one of three leading preventable killers—hypertension, diabetes or obesity. All 3 conditions are largely due to poor lifestyle choices, specifically related to diet and exercise. According to data released by Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly half of American adults are either obese or overweight. In addition, 25% percent of children between 6-19 years old are obese.

Lack of Exercise

Studies have shown that physical activity is a key factor in maximizing lifespan. Unfortunately, according to CDC data, only about half of adults (49.2%) meet recommendations for aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities. In comparison, nearly 70% of adults are meeting recommendations for aerobic activity and more than 50% are meeting recommendations for muscle-strengthening activity in Canada.

Obesity Epidemic

Obesity is a huge culprit in shortening Americans’ life expectancy. Many studies show that as many as 36% of adults are considered obese, which means that many Americans aren’t living long enough to reach their retirement years or old age. Not only does obesity increase risk for type 2 diabetes and heart disease—both leading causes of death—but it also increases your likelihood of developing other illnesses and infections.

The Cost Of Prescription Drugs

Americans pay significantly more for prescription drugs than do people in other countries. To make matters worse, even when we factor in medical care and lifestyle differences, U.S. life expectancy still falls short of countries with universal health care—and exceeds that of countries that spend far less per capita on health care each year.

What We Should Do?

Japanese health and diet practices have been proven to extend lifespan and increase wellbeing. While it would be unrealistic for Americans to implement all of Japan’s health habits, we can certainly learn from them. For example, reducing red meat intake as well as eating more soy products can lower chances of developing cancer and heart disease. Similar to how Japan has taken a holistic approach towards living healthy, Americans need to do our part in making a change that could save us from an early death.

The overall mindset of Americans needs to change if we are going to improve our health and reverse our falling life expectancy. With better lifestyle choices, education on healthy nutrition, and a greater focus on preventative care, we can be healthier and live longer lives.

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