How long do you think you will live? How long do you think the average American male lives? Female? Take a guess. Longer than your parents? Life expectancy in the United States, what do you know?
T or F?
1. Americans generally live longer than Brits.
2. Men generally outlive women.
3. Infant mortality rate in the U.S. is lower than Singapore
Life expectancy numbers for a country, race, gender, geography can be very confusing. We can more accurately predict life expectancy after age 5, since infant mortality can significantly alter data. If we start predicting life expectancy at birth, that is include infant mortality rates into the mix, the numbers can get skewed.
In the late 1800s the average life span was between 40-48 years with factors including race, gender, geography, education and socioeconomic status. The overall lifespan increased from 75 years in 1990 to 78 years in 2010. Today, the average American female, having survived to age 5, could reasonably expect to live to age 81 and her male counterpart 76 years. The newest Royal, George Alexander Louis, Princess Diana’s grandson, is expected to live 80.8 years. The average American boy born on the same day is expected to live 76 years.
Personal genetics certainly plays a role in longevity. However, mutation of the human genome is not the reason for our increased longevity. Rather it has been the implementation of public health initiatives including those that promote clean water, vaccine programs and prenatal and early infant care which are major reasons for our longer lives. In the future, our ability to address dietary risk factors, obesity and exercise will provide the greatest impact on our longevity.
For the first time in modern history, there is concern that life expectancy of the younger generation of Americans will not exceed that of their parents. The leading cause of reducing expected life span is heart disease, followed by lung cancer, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and road injuries (primarily vehicle crashes). Sedentary lifestyle, obesity and diabetes, contributors to heart disease and cancer, are epidemic which does not bode well for a long life.
In a study looking into the life expectancy and health of Americans, "State of U.S. Health" published this month in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers at the University of Washington noted chronic disabilities account for nearly half of all life-shortening health issues, many of which can be prevented or successfully managed. Low back pain, major depressive disorder, other musculoskeletal disorders, neck pain and anxiety, in that order, are the most common chronic conditions that have major quality of life and end of life consequences. Most Americans experience some chronic physical or intellectual disability during the last 10 years of life, very likely requiring some assistance. Good news for those who sell long term care insurance to Americans.
A global view provides some context. Today, there are about 30 countries that have higher life expectancy and lower infant mortality rates than the United States. The list includes every major industrialized country. Prince George will continue to have access to the finest medical care in the world. This will greatly increase the likelihood that he will live at least as long, 81 years, as his British brethren. But, the most significant factor will be his diet and physical activity.
Here at home, how do we mere commoners in Jackson County compare with fellow Americans and the world? In "State of U.S. Health" information is provided for every U.S. county. The data is interesting and should influence public health and political policy. To learn more access
Answers: 1. F; 2. F; 3. F.
Dr. Lori Boyajian-O’Neill can be contacted at