Why do Americans die younger than Britons?

Blood pressure test

New life expectancy figures show Americans some way behind countries like Canada, the UK and Australia. Why?

Living in the world’s richest country comes at a price, and it’s measured in life years.

Graph

Men in the US are on average aged 75 when they die. That is 1.5 years younger than men in the UK and 3.5 years younger than men in Australia, says a new study.

American women live on average to just under 81 – about three years younger than the average Australian woman.

While life expectancy in the US continues to improve, says the report by researchers at University of Washington in Seattle and Imperial College, London, it is not increasing as quickly as in other Western countries, so the gap is widening.

“The researchers suggest that the relatively low life expectancies in the US cannot be explained by the size of the nation, racial diversity, or economics,” says the document, which ranks the US 38th in the world for life expectancy overall.

“Instead, the authors point to high rates of obesity, tobacco use and other preventable risk factors for an early death as the leading drivers of the gap between the US and other nations.”

Continue reading the main story

Risk factors

  • smoking
  • obesity
  • high blood pressure
  • high low-density lipoprotein cholesterol
  • high dietary trans fatty acids
  • high salt intake
  • low dietary omega 3 fatty acids
  • high blood glucose
  • low intake of fruits and vegetables
  • alcohol abuse
  • physical inactivity

Source: University of Washington

“We weren’t surprised that we had lower life expectancies than other countries, but we were surprised by the fact that we were falling further behind,” says Dr Ali Mokdad, professor of global health at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.

Take a country like Australia, he says. “It also has a nation of immigrants. It also is a relatively young country. It has similar socioeconomic characteristics.

“It has an obesity problem, and yet it has continued to improve in life expectancy and remains one of the healthiest nations in the world.”

So how should the US address these risk factors?

Smoking alone is responsible for one out of every five deaths in the US, the professor says, yet the US has not been as tough as Australia in restricting tobacco advertising and public smoking.

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Categories: Health

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