Tag Archives: life expectancy

US life expectancy rises for the first time in four years

Credit: Pixabay.

For the past four years, the life expectancy of US citizens has been steadily dropping. That was something almost unheard of since every developed country should be actually increasing its life expectancy, even if ever so slightly. This alarming trend seems to have been reversed in 2018, when Americans’ average life expectancy increased by one month to 78.7 years.

According to a recent report issued by the National Center for Health Statistics, nearly 2.8 million Americans passed away in 2018.

The improvement can be attributed to falling heart disease and cancer rates, which remain the two leading causes of death in the country, as well as a much needed 4% decline in drug overdose deaths. It’s the first time in 28 years that the rate of drug overdose deaths has declined.

“This news is a real victory,” HHS Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement. “The drop in overdose deaths shows that the President’s new level of focus on the opioid crisis, and the administration’s science- and community-based efforts to combat it, are beginning to make a significant difference.”

Credit: NCHS.

“That decrease in mortality from drug overdose definitely contributed to the increase in life expectancy. It wasn’t the leading contributor. The leading contributor was cancer. Cancer actually contributed more to that increase in life expectancy. Drug overdose would be second,” said Kenneth Kochanek, a researcher at the NCHS in Maryland.

Not everything about the report was positive. In 2018, the number of deaths from suicide and influenza actually rose pretty significantly as a result of an abnormally severe flu season that winter. While thousands of people die by suicide each year, millions more contemplate it. In 2017, 10.6 million American adults seriously thought about suicide, 3.2 million made a plan, and 1.4 million attempted, according to the CDC.

This month, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention announced it had activated “Phase II of Project 2025,” which aims to reduce the suicide rate by 20% over 10 years. The ambitious program is focused on four key areas: firearms, healthcare systems, emergency departments, and corrections systems.

The top 10 leading causes of death in 2018 were the same as in 2017, accounting for 73.8% of all fatalities in the United States.

  1. Heart disease
  2. Cancer
  3. Unintentional injuries, such as drug overdose deaths and car accidents
  4. Chronic lower respiratory diseases
  5. Stroke
  6. Alzheimer’s disease
  7. Diabetes
  8. Influenza and pneumonia
  9. Kidney disease
  10. Suicide

The report’s authors point to the fact that decreasing smoking rates, which curtailed cancer deaths, and the expansion of a nationwide drug treatment policy, which reduced drug overdose deaths, show that long-term prevention programs really do work.

In the future, if such programs are better funded, life expectancy — still below the 2014 peak of 78.9 years — could rise much more. For instance, drug overdose deaths continued to increase in California, Delaware, Missouri, New Jersey, and South Carolina. Hammering down drug prevention programs in such tests might provide a considerable lift in life expectancy.

In 2018, drug overdoses claimed a staggering 67,000 lives. Prescription painkillers are no longer the leading cause of overdose deaths. In the past decade, heroin — which now kills four times as many people than in 2000 — and then fentanyl, surpassed prescription opioid drugs as the main cause of overdose death. Since 2012, the rate of overdoses involving cocaine have more than tripled while methamphetamine death rates increased fivefold.

It’s worth noting that the U.S. population-employment ratio has been increasing, which means that more Americans may be less despairing about their life prospects than before. Of course, the rising number of suicides in the country suggests that employment isn’t everything.

Besides drugs, the last two decades have seen a dramatic increase in suicides and alcohol-related diseases. The three causes of death form a “death of despair” triangle, which can be seen as symptoms of declining quality of life. For instance, they signal job losses and hollowed-out towns. Faced with stress, uncertainty, poverty, and even boredom, many become vulnerable to substance abuse and mental health problems.

As such, the authors of the new report advise cautious optimism for this is just the beginning of a very long battle with addiction in this nation.

Five simple lifestyle habits could improve your life expectancy by over a decade

A new study has found that just by developing five habits, you can add an estimated 14 years of life expectancy.

The five things are: eating a healthy diet, not smoking, not drinking too much alcohol, exercising regularly, and maintaining a healthy body weight — the last one typically comes as a natural consequence of the others. Researchers also found that study participants who maintained the healthiest lifestyles were 82% less likely to die from cardiovascular disease and 65% less likely to die from cancer when compared with those with the least healthy lifestyles.

The study analyzed data from 78,865 women followed over 27 years and 44,354 men followed over 34 years. All participants were from the US, and over the course of the roughly 30-year study period, researchers tracked their health and lifestyle habits, focusing especially on the five points mentioned above.

[panel style=”panel-danger” title=”A healthy life” footer=””]Five habits were identified to have a great impact on human health and longevity:
– not smoking;
– eating a healthy diet;
– regularly exercising (30+ minutes a day of moderate to vigorous activity);
– keeping a healthy body weight (18.5-24.9 BMI);
– moderate alcohol consumption (5-15 g/day for women, 5-30 g/day for men).[/panel]

Each individual component of a healthy lifestyle showed a significant association with risk of total mortality, cancer mortality, and cardiovascular mortality — each factor added approximately 2.5 years of life expectancy.

Researchers found that who didn’t adopt any of the low-risk lifestyle factors, the life expectancy at 50 years was 29 years for women and 25.5 years for men. But for those who adopted all five low-risk factors, life expectancy at age 50 was projected to be 43.1 years for women and 37.6 years for men. In other words, women gained an average life expectancy of 14 years, and men gained 12 years. But there was some very bad news.

“This study underscores the importance of following healthy lifestyle habits for improving longevity in the U.S. population,” said Frank Hu, chair of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard Chan School and senior author of the study. “However, adherence to healthy lifestyle habits is very low. Therefore, public policies should put more emphasis on creating healthy food, built, and social environments to support and promote healthy diet and lifestyles.”

Despite being arguably the wealthiest country in the world, America continues to struggle with its health. Both men and women having a significantly lower life expectancy than their counterparts in other parts of the world.

The U.S. ranked 31st in the world for life expectancy in 2015, and the study suggests while the US health system does a great job in terms of drug discovery and disease management, a greater emphasis on prevention would do a great deal to improve the health and life expectancy of Americans.

Researchers suggest a few resources to help keep you healthy:

The study “The Impact of Healthy Lifestyle Factors on Life Expectancies in the US Population,” was published in Circulation. DOI: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.117.032047

Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

In some U.S. counties, life expectancy can vary by as much as 20 years

If you live in central Colorado, chances are you’ll live longer than any other American. That’s good news for Coloradans but not so much for everyone else as a recent study found the difference in life expectancy between U.S. counties can vary wildly. In some cases, life expectancy at birth differs by as much as 20 years between the lowest and highest United States counties.

Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

The team led by Dr. Christopher J.L. Murray, who is the director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, found that life expectancy in the United States is on the rise. Between 1980 and 2014, men gained 6.7 years, from 70 years on average to 76.7 years, while women gained four years, from 77.5 years to 81.5 years.

When the researchers zoomed in on the data on a county by county, they found life expectancy varied a lot. The lowest life expectancy was found to be in South and North Dakota, particularly in Native American reservations which uncoincidentally are some of the poorest regions in the nation. Other counties that showed very low life expectancies, some below 60 years, include some in the lower half of Mississippi, eastern Kentucky, and southwestern West Virginia.

On the opposite end, Summit County in Colorado ranked the highest in terms of life expectancy which sat at 86.8 years in 2014. Summit County has a population of 27,994 and is home to several ski resort towns which might explain why residents’ longevity. Summit County also had almost no lung cancer mortality — a death rate of only 11 per 100,000 population in 2014, as reported in a previous study performed by the same research center.

There are a couple of factors that influence life expectancy but “60% of the differences in life expectancy across counties can be explained by socioeconomic factors alone,” the researchers noted in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine. The rest can be explained by health and risk factors like smoking, physical activity, obesity, diabetes, and so on.

Yet despite the huge gap between some counties, the bottom line is that, overall, most of them have improved their life expectancy. Counties in Colorado, Alaska and along both coasts experienced the largest increases while, conversely, counties in Oklahoma or West Virginia experienced either no or little improvement since 1980.

At the same time, let’s not forget the United States is the most powerful country in the world and any comparison needs to be made alongside its peers. In this key regard, however, the United States seems to lag behind significantly. Ali Mokdad, a co-author of the report, said the US is falling behind competitors in terms of health and this will “impact our productivity; that’s going to take away our competitive edge when it comes to the economy.” Mokdad specifically alluded to poor policy and action in terms of tackling preventable risk factors such as smoking, obesity or high blood pressure.

“The inequality in health in the United States — a country that spends more on health care than any other — is unacceptable,” said Murray. “Every American, regardless of where they live or their background, deserves to live a long and healthy life.”



Life expectancy could soon go over 90, new study finds

South Korea is expected to become the first country to achieve the milestone, and several others might follow shortly.

Image credits: Mstyslav Chernov

It’s not easy to account for everything that can impact life expectancy — wars, natural disasters, and many other things can have a massive effect — but in ‘normal’ conditions, global life expectancy has gone up drastically in the past 200 years. Now, a new study published in the Lancet analyzed how life expectancy evolved in 35 countries, including the US, UK, Serbia, Germany, Sweden, Japan, South Korea, and Chile, and projected it onto the future.

Most of these countries experienced a significant increase, with the remarkable exception of the United States. There, a combination of obesity, child mortality, homicides, and lack of equal access to healthcare cause significant problems. In fact, the US is the only country in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development without universal healthcare coverage.

“Not only does the US have high and rising health inequalities, but also life expectancy has stagnated or even declined in some population subgroups,” write the authors.

Still, authors note that life expectancy will rise in the US, just more slowly than in other countries.

Korea over 90

South Korea is the most spectacular example. Ranked 29th for women longevity in 1985, the country took strides thanks to a healthy nutrition, universal healthcare, and a drop in smoking. A dramatic overall economic rise was also key to the improvement.

Researchers developed several statistical models and under all of them, South Korea’s life expectancy is impressive. According to all these models, there is a 97% probability that women’s life expectancy at birth in 2030 in South Korea will be higher than 86.7 years and 57% probability that it will exceed 90 years.

Not all good

This is, of course, good news — but it also comes with a couple of warnings. The first is that the healthspan is not doing as good as the lifespan. In other words, people are living longer but they’re not really doing so in good health. The quality of life is also rising, but not nearly as fast as the total lifespan.

Secondly, this will be a huge test on our society. Life expectancy wasn’t expected to grow so much, and both our social and economic systems will be greatly challenged in future decades.

“As recently as the turn of the century, many researchers believed that life expectancy would never surpass 90 years,” said the lead author Prof Majid Ezzati, of Imperial College London. “Our predictions of increasing lifespans highlight our public health and healthcare successes.

“However, it is important that policies to support the growing older population are in place. In particular, we will need to both strengthen our health and social care systems and to establish alternative models of care, such as technology assisted home care.”

Journal Reference: Vasilis Kontis et al — Future life expectancy in 35 industrialised countries: projections with a Bayesian model ensemble. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(16)32381-9

old age

Good news: we’re living longer. Bad news: longer in sickness

Life expectancy has gone up by six years on average throughout the world since 1990, according to a survey led by scientists at the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. The extensive survey analyzed records from 188 countries. Japan tops the list with an average life expectancy of 83 years. While there’s reason to rejoice in the news, it’s worth mentioning that living with disabilities and illness has also been prolonged. The same advances that helped us live longer have also prolonged our suffering and this is where scientists are trying to invest their energy: focus less on extending life expectancy and more on the quality of our last years on this planet.

old age

Photo: Mete Baskocak

Six years is quite a lot. This can be attributed to widespread success in the fight against HIV/AIDS and malaria, especially in developing countries.

Between the 23 years the researchers analyzed for life expectancy patterns, little variation was encountered with a few notable exceptions. In general, people all around the world are living longer.

  • In 2013, the life expectancy in the world averaged across both sexes was 71.5 years. Broken down by gender: men live to 68.8, while women live to 74.4 years of age.
  • Healthy life expectancy at birth- living without serious disability or illness, that is –  rose by 5.4 years — from 56.9 in 1990 to 62.3 in 2013.
  • For most of the 188 countries included in the study, the life expectancy boom was “healthy and positive”. Exceptions include Belize, Botswana and Syria, countries destabilized by conflict, civil unrest and corruption, which saw no significant improvement.
  • In countries like South Africa, Paraguay, and Belarus life expectancy actually dropped. The worse off were Lesotho and Swaziland where people born in 2013 can expect to live 20 years less than projected in 2003.
  • On the opposite end of the spectrum, some countries achieved a massive boost in life expectancy. Nicaraguans and Cambodian live longer by 14.7 and 13.9 years respectively than they had in 1990.
  • Lesotho had the world’s lowest healthy life expectancy, at 42 years. Japan had the highest, at 73.4 years.

“The world has made great progress in health, but now the challenge is to invest in finding more effective ways of preventing or treating the major causes of illness and disability,” said Theo Vos, a professor at the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington who led the analysis.

I think we all can agree with Vos on this one, but in the end can deprecation at the hand of age old be addressed? It depends on where you stand: whether you believe aging is a natural, fundamental process of nature (which it is, but necessarily for humans) or if you think of aging more like a medical condition, one that can be treated like any other disease.  Aubrey de Grey seems to think so.  “Just as a vintage car can be kept in good condition indefinitely with periodic preventative maintenance, so there is no reason why, in principle, the same can’t be true of the human body”, thinks de Grey – the same man who said the first man to live to be 1,000 years old is already alive today. Bold statement. “There is an increasing number of people realising that the concept of anti-ageing medicine that actually works is going to be the biggest industry that ever existed by some huge margin and that it just might be foreseeable.”

Life Expectancy Worsening Or Stagnating For Large Segment Of U.S. Population

medicineHow can this be? Medicine has progressed… we have drugs for everything, surgery, etc. So how come people live less and less in a country that claims to be the most civilized in the world ? In fact, it decreased with more than six years for women between 1960 and 2000.

Now, a new, long-term study of mortality trends in U.S. counties over the same four decades reports a troubling finding: These gains are not reaching many parts of the country; rather, the life expectancy of a significant segment of the population is declining or at best stagnating. It was conducted by scientists at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) and the University of Washington found that 4% of the male population and 19% of the female population experienced either decline or stagnation in mortality beginning in the 1980s.

“There has always been a view in U.S. health policy that inequalities are more tolerable as long as everyone’s health is improving. There is now evidence that there are large parts of the population in the United States whose health has been getting worse for about two decades,” said Majid Ezzati, Associate Professor of International Health at HSPH and lead author of the study.

Ezzati said, “The finding that 4% of the male population and 19% of the female population experienced either decline or stagnation in mortality is a major public health concern.” Christopher Murray, Director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington and co-author of the study, added that “life expectancy decline is something that has traditionally been considered a sign that the health and social systems have failed, as has been the case in parts of Africa and Eastern Europe. The fact that is happening to a large number of Americans should be a sign that the U.S. health system needs serious rethinking.”