“Bigger than we ever thought:” Life expectancy growth is plummeting in the U.S.

A recent study found the country has been at a life expectancy disadvantage since the 1950s, with more than 50 nations surpassing the U.S.

The new study brings new worries

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In the American Journal of Public Health published in June, it has been noted that 50 countries surpassed the U.S. n life expectancy since the 1930s thanks to several states.

The study author gives deeper insight

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Dr. Steven Woolf, director emeritus of the Center on Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond and author of the study, said, “The scale of the problem is bigger than we ever thought … older than we thought, (and) the number of countries outperforming the United States is much larger than we thought.”

The decline started in the 50s

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The study recorded that the U.S. started experiencing a life expectancy increase in the early XX century. This trend continued thanks to vaccines and sanitation, Woolf confirmed. But, between 1955 and 1968, the U.S. dropped from 12th place to 29th. Many believed that the decline started in the 80s.

The reason the 80s were a breaking point 

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Woolf explained, “We cited the 1980s … because we haven’t gone far enough in the historical data to see what happened before,” he said. “That there was a decline in the 1950s raises questions about what was going on then.”

The situation today

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Initial reports from 2021 show U.S. life expectancy has dropped to 76.1 years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. This is the lowest since 1996.

Countries are doing better than the U.S

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Fifty-six countries with over 500k citizens have surpassed the U.S. in life expectancy since 1950. This includes many middle-income countries and those with different government systems. By 2019, Lebanon and Albania were in front of the United States.

What is their secret?

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Michal Engelman, associate professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, explained, “Countries that don’t necessarily have all the support systems and infrastructure and policies that exist in higher-income countries are still outperforming the U.S.”

The big question 

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The professor asked, “What are they doing in those countries that have enabled their people to live longer?”

Not all states are equal

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Life expectancy throughout the country increased and decreased differently, as Engleman confirmed, “States doing very well like Hawaii, New York, and other high performers are ranked among some the same life expectancy as some of the healthiest countries in the world.”

Things are more complex than anyone initially thought

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“The things that influence health and longevity operate on multiple levels,” Engelman concluded, “The story of our health goes far beyond the thing that we can personally control.”

Life expectancy in percentage

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Increases in U.S. life expectancy fell from 0.21 years per year from 1950 to 1954 to 0.1 years per year from 1955 to 1973.

Increases dropped

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The report states that the expectancy accelerated to 0.34 years per year from 1974 to 1982 — but the increases dropped from 0.15 years from 1983 to 2009 to 0.06 years from 2010 to 2019. Life expectancy fell by 0.97 years per year from 2020 to 2021.

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