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How Healthy Are You?

Men-Women Lifespan Gap Widens

Social Factors Drive Up Male Deaths

Men-Women Lifespan Gap Widens

By John Salak –

Some people think it’s tough being a man in today’s world. Old School, New School, Middle School, it can be confusing for many men to walk an emotional tightrope between the traditional role of needing to be seen as a masculine, in-charge type of guy versus being a more aware and perhaps sensitive individual who just doesn’t recognize the gender and nonbinary equality but actually supports it. It is little wonder that men feel lost, uncertain or even intimidated by these societal shifts, according to themodernman.com.

Well, another downer recently surfaced for men of all types. The average lifespan gap between men and women in the U.S., which has always been sizeable, has grown even wider over the last decade. Women on average now live almost 6 years longer than men, according to age gap new research led by the University of California, San Francisco and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

The gap was widened in part by the COVID-19 pandemic and the opioid overdose epidemic, among other factors. The pandemic, which took a disproportionate toll on men, was the biggest contributor to the widening gap from 2019 to 2021, followed by unintentional injuries and poisonings—through mostly drug overdoses, accidents and suicide, the research team reported.

“There’s been a lot of research into the decline in life expectancy in recent years, but no one has systematically analyzed why the gap between men and women has been widening since 2010,” explained the paper’s first author, Dr. Brandon Yan, a UCSF internal medicine resident physician and research collaborator.

Of course, while the lifespan gap between women and men may have widened, there was troubling lifespan news for everyone. The overall U.S. life expectancy in 2021, in fact, dropped to 76.1 years—a dip of two years since 2019. 

The researchers noted that the over-decline in the average American lifespan is attributed, at least in part, to so-called “deaths of despair.” This term refers to the rise in deaths from causes such as suicide, drug use disorders and alcoholic liver disease, which are often connected with economic hardship, depression and stress.

“While rates of death from drug overdose and homicide have climbed for both men and women, it is clear that men constitute an increasingly disproportionate share of these deaths,” Yan said.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the team noted that the largest contributors to men’s deaths were unintentional injuries, diabetes, suicide, homicide and heart disease. Men, however, were more likely to die of the virus during the pandemic because of several factors. These included differences in health behaviors, added exposure of contamination at work, reluctance to seek medical care, incarceration and housing instability. Chronic metabolic disorders, mental illness and gun violence also contributed.

The results beg the question of whether men need more help going forward and how this assistance should be delivered. The answers aren’t readily available. 

“We have brought insights to a worrisome trend,” Yan said. “Future research ought to help focus public health interventions towards helping reverse this decline in life expectancy.”

“We need to track these trends closely as the pandemic recedes,” Koh said. “And we must make significant investments in prevention and care to ensure that this widening disparity, among many others, does not become entrenched.”

 

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