Car crashes, shootings and drug overdoses, which cause more than 100,000 deaths a year in the United States, may explain why Americans’ life expectancy is lower than in similar countries, a new study suggests.
Americans’ life expectancy is about two years shorter than residents of Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom. For U.S. men, that difference translates into 76.4 years versus 78.6 years, while it means 81.2 years versus 83.4 years for women, the researchers reported.
“About 50% of the gap for men and about 20% for women is due just to those three causes of injury,” said lead researcher Andrew Fenelon. He is a senior service fellow at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics.
Although shootings, car crashes and drug overdoses account for only about 4% of U.S. deaths overall, they area large part of why American life expectancy is lower than in similar countries, especially among younger people, he said.
“When young people die, they lose many more years of life than older people, so the things that kill younger people may be more important for life expectancy,” Fenelon said. “If we reduced deaths from these causes, we would gain back about a year of life expectancy,” he added. “I don’t know how to do it.”
The report was published Feb. 9 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
“There are ongoing efforts, in both law enforcement and engineering, to reduce the toll of car crashes. The nation is slowly, but inexorably, directing more attention to the crisis of drug abuse. Whether or not the cold, hard calculus of epidemiology is enough to provoke meaningful action related to guns remains to be seen,” said Dr. David Katz, president of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine.
“This epidemiologist, and humanist, certainly hopes so,” he added.
Statistics are often misleading so an early death does have significant impact on our average life span. In fact, the claim that we are living longer and longer over the course of the last few generations is mostly due to the dramatic decrease in infant mortality. The youngest death skews the averages the most.
At the other end of life, we extend our time with extensive medical intervention. Sure cancer patients live a little longer but what about the quality of life?
Although this study addresses half the discrepancy between our average life span and the rest of the civilized world, it does not mention the largest cause of the gap – our health care system. We have the worst health care delivery system in the world, spending more money with less benefit than any of the countries listed in this study.
The Bottom Line:
We can and must do more to prevent untimely death in this country. Our attitude on drugs, health care, and guns must change. Americans also have to let go of their love affair with the automobile. It is a dangerous, ineffective and environmentally poor way to travel.
Source: February 9, 2016 National Institutes of Health