By Sean Zucker –
America remains the richest country in the world, with an economy worth over $18 trillion, per the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The United States is worth $7 trillion more than the number two country, China, while operating at a staggering $14 trillion above the third-richest country, Japan. Despite this, Americans are dying much younger than their counterparts in other developed but less wealthy nations. It is an unsettling situation getting worse as U.S. life expectancy rates decline.
The Peterson-KFF Health System Tracker, a non-profit wellness database, reports that U.S. life expectancy was 76.1 years in 2021, the most recent year on record. This number is significantly below the system’s “Comparable Country Average” of 82.4 years. The comparable number is the average life expectancy of several similarly developed countries, including Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Among these nations, the U.K. recorded the lowest life expectancy at 80.8 years, which is still more than four years longer than the U.S.
The comparison is dreary enough, but what is more disturbing is that 2021 was the second year in a row that U.S. life expectancy declined from the previous year. While some argue that the pandemic might have played a part, the Comparable Country Average cautions against that excuse. These countries did see a slight dip in life expectancy from 2019 to 2020; their numbers recovered to nearly pre-pandemic levels by 2021. The U.S., on the other hand, has steadily dropped by at least one year each year.
The U.S. also ranks last across every available demographic. American men and women die younger than their international counterparts, as well as every major age group. The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports this is the lowest U.S. life expectancy since 1996. Moreover, the CDC predicts it will continue to decline.
The American Medical Association (AMA) recently enlisted a few of its top physicians to figure out what might be fostering this rapid decline. No definitive culprit was defined, but the team pointed to several trends and statewide issues to blame. First, they noted which demographics were skewing the numbers most.
“What’s interesting is you would expect it to be all older people who died,” Dr. Charles Wilmer, an interventional cardiologist, told the AMA. “If you look at infant mortality, it didn’t change. If you looked at people less than 25 years old, the mortality only went up 2.5 percent.” He then added that for people “65 or older, their mortality was higher; it increased by 20 percent. What’s interesting is the 25 to 35-year-old group increased 24 percent, and the 35 to 44-year-old group increased the most.”
Wilmer theorized that a rise in suicides, homicides, chronic liver disease and cirrhosis may be to blame. A rise in drug-related deaths may also be involved. “Overdoses are one-third of all accidental deaths. In the last 20 years, this has gone up five times,” he said. “We have got to come up with a better plan for preventing overdoses.”
Dr. Bobby Mukkamala, a Michigan-based otolaryngologist, added that heart attacks remained the most common cause of death in America. He pointed to hypertension, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and smoking as causes of its mainstay at the top. “These are all factors that can lead to heart disease, and why we’re still seeing that at such a high level is because all of these factors are at high levels,” he said.
There may be other factors less apparent than a simple rise in diseases and drug overdoses. Following trends that developed during the pandemic, Wilmer suggested that life expectancy may be declining because of the medical misinformation that has fostered large-scale mistrust in American healthcare. It is on top of the threats pandemics already pose to human health.
“When you have pandemics, the access to health care drops. So, the person has a worse diet, it’s more difficult for them to get their medicines, and they’re less focused on taking medicines,” he added. “They sleep more poorly; they eat ultra-processed foods that have a lot of sodium that leads to higher blood pressure.”
The decline is undeniably disturbing, but Mukkamala did provide the AMA with a positive perspective. While the reduced U.S. life expectancy should not be ignored, it’s also not worthy of panic — yet. It is due to America remaining the richest country in the world, which means it has the resources to combat these issues. “Changing the way we take care of ourselves and our loved ones is going to be an important outcome,” he said.