Life Expectancy Declining Across High Income Countries

Michael Dodge  Getty Images

Michael Dodge Getty Images

The initial study authored by Jessica Ho at the University of Southern California and Arun Hendi at Princeton University, observed the movement in life expectancy covering 18 worthwhile countries and discovered that many countries encountered diminished the life expectancy in 2015. Both studies were published August 15 in the journal. Furthermore, the magnitude of these declines is significantly larger than in the past.

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.

The main causes of death included influenza and pneumonia, respiratory disease, cardiovascular disease, and Alzheimer's disease and other mental and nervous system disorders.

The authors associate this with the continuing opioid crisis in the USA, which resulted in 115 opioid overdose deaths each day in 2016.

He pointed to the negative health consequences of growing social deprivation and austerity policies, but notes that high life expectancies in the United Kingdom and many other high income countries (including the Nordic countries with strong pro-equitable social policies) coexist with large or even increasing health disparities.

"The USA now has the lowest life expectancy levels among high income developed countries, and Americans fare poorly across a broad set of ages, health conditions, and causes of death compared with their counterparts in these countries", the authors wrote in the study.

The study used trend estimates generated from official vital statistics - which provide information on population mortality - from 18 high-income countries: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the US and the UK.

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It comes after The Times revealed life expectancy in some parts of Britain had plummeted by a year since 2011.

Overall, Switzerland has the longest life expectancy for men at 81.6 years, while Japanese women live to a ripe old age of 87.2 years.

By comparison, British women and men have seen their life expectancy dip to 82.7 years and 79 years respectively.

Both studies are observational, so no firm conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect, and the authors highlight several limitations that may have affected their results.

Britain is the only western country other than the opioid-ridden U.S. in which life expectancy has continued to fall after a bad flu outbreak in 2014-15, in a pattern which researchers said was reminiscent of post-Soviet Russia. But the findings remain concerning, and signify a need for further review of the causes behind this decrease in life expectancy and the systemic causes of declining health in the United States.

And among the reasons cited include a possible fall in the quality of health care and/or social and economic conditions. The life expectancy for men and women in the 2016 was 76.4 and 81.4 years, while in the United Kingdom those numbers stood at 79.04 and 82.72.

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