Life expectancy in the U.S. rose from 75.2 in 1990 to 78.2 in 2010. Those three extra years sound great, but the average American spends an increasing number of years in poor health.
What’s more, compared to 34 other developed countries, we dropped from #20 to #27 in life expectancy, because we haven’t kept pace with the reductions in most major causes of premature death seen in many of these other countries. This news was highlighted in “The State of U.S. Health 1990-2010,” recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
While Canadians have dropped from #5 to #12 in the life expectancy rankings during the past two decades, they still live 2.4 years longer than Americans, on average. This is true even though per-capita health-care spending in the U.S. is nearly double that in Canada and far higher than in any other country, and we lead the world in medical research.
Why is the U.S. trailing its economic peers in so many matters of health? The researchers suggest that poor diet and physical inactivity are major factors. The U.S. ranks 27 out of 35 in body weight and in disease burden that can be attributed to dietary factors.
National health statistics, however, hide big differences that correlate with geography, race, education, economic status and access to health care. For instance, within the U.S., life expectancy is six to seven years shorter in Mississippi and Alabama than in Hawaii and Minnesota. Socioeconomic status plays a particularly large role in the health of Americans. For instance, the gap in life expectancy between high and low wage earners is about five years and has widened in recent decades.