Life Expectancy — Due To Lack Of Healthcare Or Gluttony and Smoking?
A new study suggests that simply due to the results of blood pressure, obesity, blood glucose levels and smoking, American life expectancy is artificially low by 4.9 and 4.1 years for men and women, respectively (h/t Reason):
A new study led by researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) in collaboration with researchers from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington estimates that smoking, high blood pressure, elevated blood glucose and overweight and obesity currently reduce life expectancy in the U.S. by 4.9 years in men and 4.1 years in women. It is the first study to look at the effects of those four preventable risk factors on life expectancy in the whole nation.
Below is the number of years that would be gained in life expectancy in the U.S. if each individual risk factor was reduced to its optimal level:
- Blood pressure: 1.5 years (men), 1.6 years (women)
- Obesity (measured by body mass index): 1.3 years (men), 1.3 years (women)
- Blood glucose: 0.5 years (men), 0.3 years (women)
- Smoking: 2.5 years (men), 1.8 years (women)
This study in particular was largely looking at different subgroups within the US (ethnicities, geographies, etc) to determine relative differences in life expectancy due to those factors.
But I’d like to see a wider question answered. America typically ranks lower on life expectancy rankings than most European countries with generous welfare states and single-payer or heavily-socialized health care systems. This fact was largely heralded all during the debate over the health care bill. America is also considered to be gluttonous, unhealthy, lazy*, and fat compared to Europe; anecdotally, on my one trip to France, the only fat people I met spoke perfect English.
So I’d like to see a serious academic look at what drives the life-expectancy differences between America and Europe. I’ve heard in the past that non-healthcare death rates (automotive accidents and homicides) are significantly higher here, but is it also the case that we’re eating and smoking ourselves to death at a rate much higher than Europe?
And if so, does anyone think — as I do — that the healthcare bill will do little or nothing to affect this life expectancy gap?
* I personally think the “lazy” aspect is a misnomer with regards to this debate. While it affects obesity to be sure, one difference between here and Europe is that we don’t take 5-week vacations every summer and work 35-hour weeks. The stress and fast pace of the American workplace probably doesn’t help blood pressure very much.