Study: The U.S. Drops to 64th Place in Life Expectancy Rankings
October 24, 2018 | by Andreea Ciulac

Study: The U.S. Drops to 64th Place in Life Expectancy Rankings

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Japan will be dethroned by 2040 as the world leader in life expectancy. Instead, Spain will move into first place, according to recently released data. The U.S. on the other hand is going to see a deep plunge in rankings.

These forecasts were made by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) using data from the 2016 Global Burden of Diseases project.

The study shows that by 2040, life expectancy of the Spanish is predicted to reach 85.8 years, topping the 85.7 years of the Japanese.

The life expectancies rankings are incredibly important as they tell the story of a country’s general well-being.

The opioid crisis is driving down U.S. life expectancy

While America will see an increase of 1.1 years by 2040 reaching an average lifespan of 79.8 years, the country will actually fall 21 places, from 43rd to 64th.

What’s more concerning is that the country is registering larger declines in life expectancy at younger ages, found a recent study by BMJ, a leading general medical journal.

One major culprit identified by researchers is the ongoing opioid epidemic responsible for most drug overdose deaths.

“The sizeable declines in life expectancy at younger ages for American men and women are strongly related to the USA’s ongoing, large scale drug overdose epidemic stemming from misuse of prescription opioids, heroin, and fentanyl,” researchers said.

America now has the lowest life expectancy levels among high income developed countries. Other high-income nations forecasted to see a plunge in life-expectancy rankings include Canada, Norway, Taiwan (Province of China), Belgium, and the Netherlands.

Heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory disease, stroke, diabetes, influenza, Alzheimer’s disease, and suicide are also leading causes of death in the United States.

Sicker populations in a high tech world

On a global level, data shows similar trends. There will be a significant increase in deaths from diseases such as diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, chronic kidney disease, and lung cancer.

The new findings are in stark contrast with the leaps and bounds made in technology.

In the absence of a “deliberate policy action,” the authors noted, we are looking at “a world with accelerating progress from technical innovation,” but with the “potential for worsening health outcomes.”  

The biggest factors influencing these health outcomes are obesity, high blood pressure and blood sugar, tobacco use, and alcohol use.

 “In a substantial number of countries, too many people will continue earning relatively low incomes, remain poorly educated, and die prematurely,” explained Dr. Christopher Murray, director of IHME.

However grim, the new predictions can still be turned around.

Murray said nations could make faster progress by helping people tackle the major risks, especially air pollution, smoking, and poor diet.

People in Spain are the living proof that longevity and good health go hand in hand with proper nutrition. The Predimed study, published this year in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), looked into the benefits of the Mediterranean diet. When supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil or nuts, a Mediterranean diet can greatly lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, the study found.

Spain is also one of several European countries to offer tax-funded healthcare. In 2009, Spain’s healthcare system was ranked as the 7th best in the world by the World Health Organization. And a 2017 report published in The Lancet medical journal ranked it the 8th out of 192 countries in terms of their quality and access to healthcare.

Here are some surprising findings from the new study:

Worldwide, both women and men will live 4.4 years more.

Nations expected to live above 80 years on average include Singapore (85.4) Switzerland (85.2), Portugal (84.5), Italy (84.5), France (84.3) and Australia (84.1). On the other hand, developing countries such as Lesotho, Somalia, and Zimbabwe had projected life expectancies below 65 years in 2040.

Syria is the country expected to take the largest jump in global rankings – from 137th in 2016 to 80th in 2040. Researchers believe it’s “due to a conservative model for conflict.” At the opposite end, Palestine is expected to see the biggest drop  – from 114th in 2016 to 152nd in 2040.

 

Andreea Ciulac
Healthcare Weekly Staff

Andreea Ciulac is former Chicago Tribune writer with almost a decade of reporting experience. She has a knack for deciphering complex medical reports and statistics and conveying them into engaging stories that will help executives in healthcare keep up with the digital transformations in their industry. She covers an array of topics from pharma to startups and the Illinois healthcare system.

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