U.S. Lags on Health

America now ranks 30th in the world in life expectancy.

Folks in British Columbia enjoy relatively long, healthy lives.  The most recent data release from BCStats, the province’s statistical agency, shows that life expectancy in 2007 reached 81.6 years, an increase of about 3 months over the previous year.

So at this point, if BC were an independent nation, its average lifespan would rank second in the world, just behind Japan and tied with Iceland.  (This, according to the most recent United Nations Human Development Report.)

By comparison, the Northwest states lag quite a bit.  As of 2006, the latest year with complete data, Washington’s life expectancy stood at about 79.7 years—which was a smidge ahead of its two neighbors, Oregon and Idaho.  If Washington were an independent nation, it’d rank 13th in the world, tied with Singapore.  That’s not too shabby, I suppose.

The US as a whole, however, is doing abysmally on life expectancy, compared with other developed nations.  For all its wealth and power, America’s life expectancy now ranks 30th in the world.  Here are all the countries with better life-expectancy records than the US:

Japan, Iceland, Switzerland, Australia, Sweden, Spain, Israel, Canada, France, Italy, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, Austria, the Netherlands, Germany, The United Kingdom, Malta, Finland, Belgium, Greece, Cyprus, Ireland, Luxembourg, Costa Rica, the United Arab Emirates, Chile, South Korea, and Denmark.

At this point, we’re just a month or two ahead of Cuba, and less than 4 months ahead of Slovenia, for heaven’s sakes!

The reason that all this matters is that life expectancy is probably the best single indicator of the overall health of a population.  Anything that can shorten lives—cancer, infectious disease, car crashes, heart disease, infant mortality, you name it—gets incorporated into a region’s life expectancy statistics.  Plus, regions with long lifespans tend to have people who are happy with their health, and to live more of their lives free of disease or disability.

So the fact that the US does so poorly on life expectancy is a sign that the nation is lagging—badly—in a key indicator of human well-being.

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