What Do We Do About U.S. Longevity?
Last year, I wrote a blog post, “Longevity is Becoming Shortevity.” It was 1,000 words and had lots of stats pointing to the steep decline in longevity in the U.S. However, a picture is sometimes worth a thousand words, as the graph below shows. Take a second look, and you’ll see how one of the wealthiest countries in the world (and the one that spends the most per capita on health care costs) has a full-blown system failure with longevity in freefall, and all at a time when the rest of the world is seeing a post-pandemic recovery.
As outlined in this recent NPR story, a big part of America’s poor performance results from people dying or being killed before the age of 50 due to teen pregnancy, drug overdoses, HIV, fatal car crashes, injuries, and violence. Two years of difference in life expectancy probably comes from the fact that firearms are readily available in the United States. The good news—and there’s not much—is that Americans have a higher survival rate after age 75 than do peer countries.
The U.S. ranks 49th in the world when it comes to longevity. And regarding income per capita, we’re 13th in the world. If our income per capita ranking were comparable to our longevity score (49th), our standard of living would be equivalent to Hungary’s (which now has nearly the same life expectancy).
While there are all kinds of reasons for this alarming trend, let me post three questions for us to consider:
1. What is unique about the U.S. that has shown this kind of decline, such that our 2021 life expectancy is the same as in 1996?
2. How do we massively improve the lifestyle factors (diet, exercise, stress, etc.) leading to this rotten result?
3. What can the government do—at a time when the federal government seems paralyzed with polarization—to address this new reality head-on? What are some best practices we can learn from other countries?