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Medicine United States Science

US Life Expectancy May Have Peaked 1053

Hugh Pickens writes "Live Science reports that although life expectancy in the United States has risen to an all-time high of 77.9 years in 2007 up from 77.7 in 2006, gains in life expectancy may be pretty much over, as some groups — particularly people in rural locations are already stagnating or slipping in contrast to all other industrialized nations. Hardest hit are regions in the Deep South, along the Mississippi River, in Appalachia and also the southern part of the Midwest reaching into Texas. The culprits — largely preventable with better diet and access to medical services — are diabetes, cancers and heart disease caused by smoking, high blood pressure and obesity. What the new analysis reveals is the reality of two Americas, one on par with most of Europe and parts of Asia, and another no different than a third-world nation with the United States placing 41st on the 2008 CIA World Factbook list, behind Bosnia but still edging out Albania. 'Beginning in the early 1980s and continuing through 1999 those who were already disadvantaged did not benefit from the gains in life expectancy experienced by the advantaged, and some became even worse off,' says a report published in PLoS Medicine by a team led by Harvard's Majid Ezzati, adding that 'study results are troubling because an oft-stated aim of the US health system is the improvement of the health of "all people, and especially those at greater risk of health disparities.'"
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US Life Expectancy May Have Peaked

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  • by TheLostSamurai ( 1051736 ) on Thursday August 20, 2009 @02:41PM (#29136505)
    That guys gonna be pissed he won't actually be able to live forever.
  • USA! USA! USA! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by SoupGuru ( 723634 ) on Thursday August 20, 2009 @02:41PM (#29136507)

    Just remember, the USA is better at everything. Why? Because!

    Don't ever question that or you'll be a traitor. Why try to change what is already perfect?

    • Re:USA! USA! USA! (Score:4, Insightful)

      by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Thursday August 20, 2009 @03:04PM (#29136887) Journal
      Sorry, hand in your liberal card. That was the party-line during the Bush years. Now that democrats are in power, it is Un-American [] to oppose health care reform (according to Nancy Pelosi, anyway), and if you do, then you are an evil-monger []. That is according to Harry Reid.

      It's as if the debate turned from trying to help poor people who are uninsured into some weird debate over I don't even know what. I seriously look at it and have no clue exactly what problem the Democrats are trying to solve. If anyone else has an idea, please say it. As for me, it's enough to make me vote Green Party.
      • Re:USA! USA! USA! (Score:4, Insightful)

        by hoggoth ( 414195 ) on Thursday August 20, 2009 @03:13PM (#29137059) Journal

        As soon as someone starts talking about those damn Democrats or those damn Republicans I know there will be no sensible discussion following.
        How about which policies and which initiates you think have merit, which need tweaking, and which are bad ideas, irregardless of which clique is pushing it through the propaganda machines?

        To myself, someone without strong ties to either political party, I see two groups who are almost identical. They use very similar strategies, similar ways of using their power, similar ways of blocking and discrediting the other party and any initiatives of the other party no matter how good or bad they may be. Both parties spout crazy rhetoric designed to appeal to certain people's greed and insecurity. They just have chosen different people to court.

        I have voted Republican and Democratic in local and national elections depending on which candidate and which issue I felt was better. I HATE this idea that you are "with us or against us." It ruins all sensible progress in politics.

    • Re:USA! USA! USA! (Score:5, Informative)

      by lawpoop ( 604919 ) on Thursday August 20, 2009 @07:53PM (#29141229) Homepage Journal

      Just remember, the USA is better at everything. Why? Because!

      The technical term for this idea is American Exceptionalism [].

      "American exceptionalism (def. "exceptionalism") refers to the theory that the United States occupies a special niche among developed nations[1] in terms of its national credo, historical evolution, political and religious institutions and unique origins. The roots of the term are attributed to Alexis de Tocqueville,[2] who claimed that the then-50-year-old United States held a special place among nations, because it was a country of immigrants and the first modern democracy.[citation needed] The term itself did not emerge until after World War II[3] when it was embraced by neoconservative[4] pundits in what was described in the International Herald Tribune as "an ugly twist of late".[5] More recently, President Barack Obama noted that "I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism."[6] He also said that "there have been times where America has shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive."[7] Research shows that "there is some indication for American exceptionalism among the [U.S.] public, but very little evidence of unilateral attitudes".[2]

      The theory of American exceptionalism has a number of opponents, especially from the Left.[8][9] The U.S. Democratic Party in particular is said to be "fundamentally opposed to" American exceptionalism.[10] They argue that the belief is "self-serving and jingoistic" (see slavery and civil rights issues, Western betrayal, and the failure to aid Jews fleeing the Nazis),[1] that it is based on a myth,[11] and that "[t]here is a growing refusal to accept" the idea of exceptionalism both nationally and internationally.[12] "

  • what? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Lord Ender ( 156273 ) on Thursday August 20, 2009 @02:41PM (#29136511) Homepage

    an oft-stated aim of the US health system is the improvement of the health of "all people, and especially those at greater risk of health disparities."

    [citation needed]

    The "US health system" has a stated aim? I thought the aim was to maximize the profits of the insurance companies, which we know can only be done by denying health care to those at greater risk. Where, exactly, is this stated?

  • by aquatone282 ( 905179 ) on Thursday August 20, 2009 @02:44PM (#29136561)

    Just wait until government Death Panels start pulling the plug on Grandmas!

    • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) * on Thursday August 20, 2009 @03:30PM (#29137349) Homepage Journal

      I'll get a "woosh" for this, but you might want to read this AP article []. Or not, if you're a Rushie.

      THE POLL: 45 percent said it's likely the government will decide when to stop care for the elderly; 50 percent said it's not likely.

      THE FACTS: Nothing being debated in Washington would give the government such authority. Critics have twisted a provision in a House bill that would direct Medicare to pay for counseling sessions about end-of-life care, living wills, hospices and the like if a patient wants such consultations with a doctor. They have said, incorrectly, that the elderly would be required to have these sessions.

      House Republican Leader John Boehner of Ohio said such counseling "may start us down a treacherous path toward government-encouraged euthanasia."

      The bill would prohibit coverage of counseling that presents suicide or assisted suicide as an option.

      Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia, who has been a proponent of coverage for end-of-life counseling under Medicare, said such sessions are a voluntary benefit, strictly between doctor and patient, and it was "nuts" to think death panels are looming or euthanasia is part of the equation.

      But as fellow conservatives stepped up criticism of the provision, he backed away from his defense of it.

  • by joeflies ( 529536 ) on Thursday August 20, 2009 @02:46PM (#29136595)

    When you look at the 20 year trend chart for obesity in the United States [], it's clear that there's going to be repercussions. It's appalling what has happened. The cost of obesity isn't going to manifest right away, but over the next two decades, it's going to hit the mortality rate hard. And to think that people fear disease but don't seem to be doing too much about preventable self-inflicted health problems.

  • by plopez ( 54068 ) on Thursday August 20, 2009 @02:47PM (#29136599) Journal

    Or maybe not. Maybe only 37th.

    Seriously, the way the insurance companies are sabotaging health care reform what we need is what I call the nuclear health care reform option. Maybe something like along the line of if reform doesn't pass:

    1) All members of congress that blocked it must pay for their own health insurance out of their own pockets. No more public health care for them like most of them currently have through their Congressional pay and benefits package..

    2) No more bonuses or stock options for the top tiers of insurance company execs as long as they deny insurance to people. And cap their pay at 100K per year and force them to pay for their health benefits out their own pocket. No health benefits as part of their compensation. They have to purchase their own plans.

    If they pull the trigger and kill reform, then we should pull the trigger on them. Mutually Assured Destruction.

    The only health care program that really works is the single payer option.

  • Third World America (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Hadlock ( 143607 ) on Thursday August 20, 2009 @02:51PM (#29136651) Homepage Journal

    Large portions of the low life expectancy part of America also take in close to 20% more federal funds than they put into the system. If you've ever stopped off at a gas station between New Orleans and Atlanta on I-10, you'd know how low the standard of living is there. We're talking large swaths of the states in that area with average incomes barely breaking the $20,000 mark. In defense of Texas, the portion they're talking about is between Beaumont and Texarkana, right on the border, bleeding into the Tyler/Longview area. Houston/Dallas/Austin have some of the highest standards of living (and lowest cost of living) in the country.

  • SOCIALISM! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tumbleweed ( 3706 ) * on Thursday August 20, 2009 @02:55PM (#29136703)

    I Want My Country Back! Death Panels! Death Panels! Death Panels!


    Sorry, I've been watching too much tv...

  • USA vs Europe (Score:5, Interesting)

    by homer_s ( 799572 ) on Thursday August 20, 2009 @02:59PM (#29136775)
    Here [] is a comparison of life expectancies between the US and Europe.

    For unadjusted life expectancy, the U.S. ranks #14 out of 16 countries, but for the adjusted standardized life expectancy, (adjusted for the effects of premature death resulting from non-health-related fatal injuries) the U.S. ranks #1.
    • Re:USA vs Europe (Score:5, Informative)

      by dduck ( 10970 ) on Thursday August 20, 2009 @04:10PM (#29138111) Homepage
      I think it would be extremely instructive if it was expressed as a ratio of - say - life expectancy pr. $ expended pr. year. Or the marginal cost per year of increase, or something. The debate is not really about how long the average person lives . it's about how many people are not treated for even simple ailments (morals), and the effectiveness of the system (cost/benefit).

      I am from Denmark, but married to a US citizen. We have a lot of opportunity to compare notes. While Danish doctors are often somewhat rude and will cheerfully refuse to give you a prescription for stuff you are sure you need, we would never see a case like my wife's uncle. He lost his leg because he didn't see a doctor about the pain, and his reason for not seeing the doctor was that he was worried the visit would not be covered by his insurance. When he finally went, it was too late, and they had to amputate. So it goes. Meanwhile, in Denmark the government is often imploring the citizens to see their doctor more often, to keep health costs down by spotting problems before they become expensive to treat.

      Personally, I have received many, many treatments ranging from setting of broken limbs to specialist examinations for this and than, and every night I use a C-PAP machine, paid for and maintained by the socialized health system, but supplied by a private specialist. I can, in fact, choose any doctor I want as my GP, or just make an appointment or show up as a walk-in. The only practical limit is that in order to see a specialist, I need a referral from a GP. This has never been a problem for me.

      Our system? Socialized with a private option, with an overflow to the private system if the public system is too tardy - again at no extra expense for the user. You can add a private insurance if you wish, and many people choose to do so for things such as dental, plastic surgery etc, but it's really not required to stay hale and taxable :)
    • Re:USA vs Europe (Score:5, Informative)

      by Pascal Sartoretti ( 454385 ) on Thursday August 20, 2009 @04:42PM (#29138733)

      Here [] is a comparison of life expectancies between the US and Europe.

      I guess it is based on bullshit data. For instance, Switzerland has a much higher life expentancy, see here []. 80 years for men, 84 for women.

      adjusted for the effects of premature death resulting from non-health-related fatal injuries

      Why this adjustment ? Oh, to make data fit to your conclusion ? You live in a violent country [], deal with it.

      • Re:USA vs Europe (Score:4, Interesting)

        by careysub ( 976506 ) on Thursday August 20, 2009 @05:00PM (#29139043)

        I guess it is based on bullshit data. For instance, Switzerland has a much higher life expentancy, see here []. 80 years for men, 84 for women.

        adjusted for the effects of premature death resulting from non-health-related fatal injuries

        Why this adjustment ? Oh, to make data fit to your conclusion ? You live in a violent country [], deal with it.

        Close - it is bullshit analysis. What they did was fit a curve to the OECD data set for injury and per capita income, then using the U.S. per capita income and the assumption that it is a normal OECD country they calculate its "adjusted" life expectancy. They are thus crediting the U.S. with both a typical OECD injury death rate and a typical OECD relationship for GDP to life expectancy, when in fact it is much lower.

      • Re:USA vs Europe (Score:4, Informative)

        by sjames ( 1099 ) on Thursday August 20, 2009 @09:14PM (#29141887) Homepage Journal

        Apparently Switzerland, Norway, and Canada have a problem with violent resurrections. How else would eliminating the effects of violence from the picture decrease the mean lifespan?

    • by careysub ( 976506 ) on Thursday August 20, 2009 @04:43PM (#29138745)

      Do check out the blogspot post, but then check this out:

      According to "OECD Economic Surveys: United States 2008", p. 137 (
      "It has been claimed (Ohsfeld and Schneider, 2006) that adjusting for the higher death rate from accident or injury in the United States over 1980-99 than the OECD average would increase US life expectancy at birth from 18th of of 29 OECD countries to the highest. In fact, what the panel regression estimated by these authors shows is that predicted life expectancy at birth based on US GDP per capita and OECD average death rates from these causes is the highest in the OECD. The adjustment for the gap in injury death rates between the United States and OECD average alone only increases life expectancy at birth marginally, from 19th on average among 29 countries over 1980-99 to 17th. Hence, the high ranking of adjusted life expectancy mainly reflects high US GDP per capita, not the effects of unusually high death rates from accident and injury."

      In other words, the figures in Table 1-5 are not U.S. life expectancies adjusted for fatal injuries, but rather a model that assumes that both the relationship of life expectancy to per capita GDP and injuries in the U.S. follow OECD trends.

      That is - they are falsely giving the U.S. credit for having the same basic life expectancy as other other high GDP OECD countries, when in fact it is markedly lower.

      Check it out for yourself, the Ohsfeld and Schneider report is at: []
      See p. 20-21.

  • Uh, yeah. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Pedrito ( 94783 ) on Thursday August 20, 2009 @02:59PM (#29136797)
    gains in life expectancy may be pretty much over

    And nobody will EVER need more than 640K of RAM.

    Forget the fact that things like the internet and the Human Genome project have lead to a flood of medical research, the likes of which we've never seen, that is bound to produce results.

    Sorry, but that's about the most ridiculous statement Slashdot has posted today.
  • by MrLogic17 ( 233498 ) on Thursday August 20, 2009 @03:03PM (#29136863) Journal

    Let me get this straight- in the US, our lowest classes are so well fed, with so many calories, that they become overweight. Because they are poor, they can't afford to lose weight.

    Astounding. In many other countries, the poor starve to death.

    We're so rich that even the poorest of our poor is suffering from over-abundance.

    Every American should take a trip to a real 3rd world country at lease once in their lifetime. It would solve a lot of the entitlement issues we have.

    • Not entirely (Score:5, Insightful)

      by SmallFurryCreature ( 593017 ) on Thursday August 20, 2009 @03:32PM (#29137401) Journal

      One thing I learned about the US that is hard to grasp for someone from say Holland is that there are areas in the US where you just can't buy produce. No vegetables.

      Sure, you can DRIVE to another area, but that costs money.

      Now I can't say exactly how true this is, but the simple fact is that even in "poor" areas in holland you can easily WALK (in less then 5 minutes) to a supermarket. Often one of a regular big chain like the AH. Which carries in all its stores, fresh vegetables.

      They are still relatively expensive however.

      If you do the math, then cheap fast food (the cheapest no-brand frozen pizza's) can be a LOT cheaper then even buying healthy base products and making your own. Good luck making a meal for 99 euro cents (cost of a frozen pizza). That of course assumes that such fresh products are even available, which in america they apparently aren't always.

      You do get fat from eating to much, but you also get fat from eating the wrong things. Eat only frozen meals and your waist line will expand.

      What europeans forget is the sheer scale of america. Everything is really bigger over there and this includes the slums. What might a be a bad neighbourhood in holland, consisting of maybe a few streets, is an entire suburb housing the same number of people as major town in holland.

      Amsterdam, the dutch capitol has 750.000 people and is surrounded by farm land. It would fit several times into a large american city. In fact, the entire country is less then a 1/3rd of the state of new york.

      Being poor can make it very hard to eat right especially if you are in a poor area where there just ain't a market for expensive healthy food.

      Compare the prices, cheapo no-brand coke vs apple juice (and I am not even talking about the stuff with no sugars or artificial flavors added).

      Frozen poptarts vs fresh bread (and wonder bread does not count as bread, it is a building material).

      Remember, it is not the expensive fast foods that make people fat (well they do) but the stuff we are talking about here is the no-brand really crappy cheapo kind that is decades away from cutting down on articficial flavors and saturated fats.

      When I buy fries, mine are made from real potatoes, cut on the spot, properly fried in expensive fluid fat that is replaced often. When you do it on a budget, you have cheapo thin fries (more fat) that are fried in your own cooker with months old solid fat.

      Poor people eat unhealthy because healthy food is really expensive. live on a budget for your whole life to find out.

    • by Urkki ( 668283 ) on Thursday August 20, 2009 @04:02PM (#29137985)

      In industrialized countries, obesity is more a problem for the poor. Fatty, sugary (corn syrup!) foods are cheap. They contain lots of calories, but not much other nutrients. The healthy food (fresh veggies and fruits, full grain rice, bread and pasta, quality meat etc) is more expensive.

    • by Abcd1234 ( 188840 ) on Thursday August 20, 2009 @04:15PM (#29138217) Homepage

      Let me get this straight- in the US, our lowest classes are so well fed, with so many calories, that they become overweight.

      I know! It's like people who somehow dehydrate on a boat, even though they're *surrounded by water*! Because, as we both know, just like food, it doesn't matter what's in it or where it came from, it's all equally good for you, right?

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna ( 970587 ) on Thursday August 20, 2009 @03:06PM (#29136923) Journal
    This might mean all those calculations projecting imminent bankruptcy of social security will have to be redone. If people are not going to live as long as they do now, there will be that much reduced pressure on the social security trust fund. Couple it with stalling the insurance reform, make healthcare more expensive, and bump another 45 million more Americans off health insurance. That way we can bring down the number of people getting on to the social security benefits and the duration also will be cut. So looks like all these problems are self correcting and they will solve themselves. Of course we may not like the way the problems solve themselves and we might personally get the short end of the stick too. But we at least know how the problems are going to solve themselves.
  • by avandesande ( 143899 ) on Thursday August 20, 2009 @03:07PM (#29136939) Journal

    Being poor is most likely to shorten your life expectancy and we have gutted most of the manufacturing in our rural communities. I suspect this has more to do with these areas life expectancy than government funding, education or anything else.

  • by rbrander ( 73222 ) on Thursday August 20, 2009 @03:28PM (#29137313) Homepage

    Take a step back and ask if you believe that (a) Americans are genetically more likely to die young; (b) if America as a location is inherently more deadly from pesticides or something. Neither one flies for me.

    You are left with only the two variables I can think of. Health care and lifestyle. Where "lifestyle" includes everything from "your personal diet and exercise" to "national norms in diet and exercise", to "crime" Japanese just eat less fatty foods; Europeans walk more. MOST nations have less bullet-related deaths.

    A conservative of my acquaintance tried to pass it all of as the latter. I believe his harsh words were "subtract the crack babies and they're the same as Canada".

    So I did some research which I alas can't cite, but it took me about 30 minutes with Google, so I'll leave it as an exercise. Limited to over-65 white males with kidney disease, Canada STILL had better survival rates. 65+ females with heart disease? Canada in the lead, by statistically significant amounts. I remember it running like that across a whole matrix of hospital-admissions reasons. Liver, digestive tract, neurological...pick your organ, it's better to get sick in Canada. The stats even apply (with much less force to be sure) for the American insured, probably because American "insurance" has a way of disappearing on you when most needed.

    So, sorry conservatives, health care explains a lot. (Canada, sorry to admit, has ALL your obesity problems, and then some in a few provinces.)

    Not to forget the early-deaths, but not all of those are bullet-related. A factoid from the current debate includes this one: children born into uninsured households have a 50% higher chance of dying before the age of 1. It doesn't take a lot of baby deaths to really haul down an average.

    So, in summary: American lifestyles could improve. So could American health care. Blame both.

In less than a century, computers will be making substantial progress on ... the overriding problem of war and peace. -- James Slagle