U.S. lags in life expectancy

February 9, 2011

Although the United States ranks No. 1 in the world in healthcare spending, it ranks 28th in life expectancy, according to new statistics from the National Academy of Sciences.

Washington - Although the United States ranks No. 1 in the world in healthcare spending, it ranks 28th in life expectancy, according to new statistics from the National Academy of Sciences.

Average life expectancy in 2006 was 75.1 years for American men and 80.2 years for women, having risen from 65.4 years and 71 years, respectively, in 1950, MedPage Today reports.

In comparison, life expectancy in Japan in 2007 was 79.2 years for men and 86 years for women, up from 57.6 and 60.9 years, respectively, in 1950. In France, the statistic for men increased from 63.4 years in 1950 to 77.4 years in 2007, and for women from 69.2 to 84.4 years, respectively.

At the request of the National Institute on Aging, and using the Human Mortality Database, a University of Southern California, Los Angles, research team looked at mortality in people over 50 years of age in more than 20 countries. Their goal was to identify possible reasons for the differences in life expectancy.

Not surprisingly, they determined that cigarette smoking was a major factor in national life-expectancy gaps, especially among women.

“The damage caused by smoking was estimated to account for 78 percent of the gap in life expectancy for women and 41 percent of the gap for men between the U.S. and other high-income countries in 2003,” the authors write.

Obesity and lack of exercise are other contributory factors. The report notes, however, that although obesity is epidemic in the United States today, management of some of its most lethal consequences - type 2 diabetes, for example - has improved.

Investigators wrote that shortcomings in the U.S. healthcare system also factor into the relatively low rating. “Certainly, the lack of universal access to healthcare in the U.S. has increased mortality and reduced life expectancy,” the authors wrote.