Despite all of our modern advances, technology, and medical studies, America is not one of the 10 healthiest countries in the world — in fact, our average life expectancy just dropped for the second year in a row. Even as more and more medical breakthroughs are being discovered, Americans seem to be getting sicker.
So why has the U.S., which was once a global leader in the length of life for its citizens, fallen so far? According to research, there are several deadly reasons.
The current life expectancy in the U.S.
The new average life expectancy for Americans is 78.7 years, which puts the U.S. behind other developed nations Canada, Germany, Mexico, France, Japan, and the U.K., which have a life expectancy of 80.3 years. But this isn’t because our doctors are failing us or because of some kind of outbreak. The real reasons are (literally) quite sad.
According to experts, there are three main reasons Americans are dying sooner that can be traced back to one general cause.
1. Drug overdose
The opioid crisis is certainly partially to blame for the drop in American life expectancy. Between 2000 and 2014, the rate of fatal drug overdoses rose by 137%. And while opioids aren’t entirely to blame, they have a large impact on addiction and overdoses.
2. Alcohol abuse
Abusing alcohol is killing Americans at an alarming rate. Alcohol poisoning kills six people every day, 76% of which are adults ages 35-64. Alcoholism tends to be worse in poor communities where people don’t have a lot of opportunities or hope.
As alarming as the opioid epidemic is, it’s just the tip of an iceberg of an even larger public health crisis. Between 1999 and 2014, suicide rates in America rose by 24%. The suicides are disproportionately affecting white Americans, especially adults aged 25-59 years, those with limited education, and women. They tend to happen most in communities with longstanding social and economic challenges.
4. The real issue: Despair
While it’s not entirely clear why Americans are dying at higher rates from these factors, given the facts we do have, it seems obvious: Economic hardships and the loss of security held by previous generations have put American adults into a state of despair. The U.S. as a whole is rich, but the wealth is not inclusive. The “American dream” seems more out of reach than ever.
The good news: We can change
As depressing as these statistics seem, experts are claiming that change is possible, and that the same things that are good for America’s economy can also be good for the country’s health.
“The solutions to dealing with this problem are not very different from the priorities we should have to strengthen the middle class overall,” said Steven Woolf, director of the Center on Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University. “What people in the health field would recommend is improvements in education, employment, and economic opportunities for the low-income and middle-class segments of our population—and those same investments are going to improve economic prosperity and social mobility for much of America; that’s the win-win here.”
Changing our health may be as simple as changing our priorities as a nation.
In some ways, our life expectancy is actually longer
While it’s tragic that more middle-aged Americans are dying from despair-related causes, there is some good news: There has been a decrease in mortality from heart disease and cancer, two of our biggest killers. If we can get a handle on our substance abuse problem as a nation, our collective life expectancy should soon be higher, where it belongs.