- Australians are living longer, 85.5 years for women and 81.5 years for men.
- However, Americans are falling behind with just 76.4 years for men and 81.4 for women.
- A study of life expectancy in 18 high income countries says there’s an urgent need to examine causes of declining health in the US.
Australians appear to be living longer than their counterparts in the US and the UK where there’s been a sudden decline.
And among the reasons cited include a possible fall in the quality of health care and/or social and economic conditions.
Women in Australia can now expect to live to around 85.5 years and men to 81.5 years, according to research in the BMJ authored by Jessica Ho at the University of Southern California and Arun Hendi at Princeton University.
But in the US it’s an average of 81.4 for women and a lot lower for men at 76.4 years.
The study looked at life expectancy in 18 high income countries including Australia.
Australia made life expectancy gains from 2010 all the way to 2016.
Most countries saw a dip in 2014-15, which the researchers say is likely related to a severe influenza season.
Life expectancy in the US and the UK continued to fall in 2016 when other countries bounced back.
A second study shows an increase in US death rates in midlife.
The researchers say the findings point to an urgent need to examine systemic causes of this declining health in the US.
Life expectancy is a measure of the health and well-being of a population. Widespread or sustained declines in life expectancy may signal problems in a nation’s social and economic conditions or in healthcare services.
Most countries experienced declines in life expectancy in 2015, largely concentrated at ages 65 and older.
The main causes of death included influenza and pneumonia, respiratory disease, cardiovascular disease, and Alzheimer’s disease and other mental and nervous system disorders.
But in the US, the decline was concentrated at younger ages, those in their 20s and 30s, and largely driven by increases in drug overdose deaths related to its ongoing opioid epidemic.
Previous studies have documented a rise in “deaths of despair” among middle-aged white people in the US.
But this is the first study to show that the trend is striking multiple racial and ethnic groups.
These increases are offsetting years of progress in lowering death rates among black and Hispanic adults.
The authors say no single factor, such as opioids, explains this phenomenon.
In a linked editorial, Domantas Jasilionis at the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Germany says life expectancy is a key characteristic of human development and declines should be taken seriously.
He points to the negative health consequences of growing social deprivation and austerity policies, but notes that high life expectancies in the UK and many other high income countries coexist with large or even increasing health disparities.
Here are the life expectancy tables from the study:
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