Life Expectancy Dropping in Richest Nation on Earth

The United States, despite its enormous wealth and advanced medical technology, continues to slide down the list of countries with the best life-expectancy rates.

The authors of a recently released study estimated that 22 years from now, the average American will survive 79.8 years, just 1.1 years longer than in 2016. That would plunge the United States from its current 43rd place in the international rankings to 64th, the largest decline of any nation and the lowest rating among high-income countries. The researchers predicted that worldwide, life expectancy will rise by 4.4 years.

The projected top 10 in 2040 are Spain, 85.8 years; Japan, 85.7; Singapore, 85.4; Switzerland, 85.2; Portugal and Italy, 84.5; Israel, 84.4; France, 84.3; and Australia and Luxembourg, 84.1. Among others on pace to pass the United States on the list is China, which will move up 29 spots to 39th, according to the study.

Kyle Foreman, the research team's lead author, offered some hope for countries with falling life-expectancy rates. “Whether we see significant progress or stagnation depends on how well or how poorly health systems address key health drivers. The future of the world's health is not pre-ordained, and there is a wide range of plausible trajectories,” Foreman, director of data science at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), told CNN.

The television network noted that last month, another study found that people live longer in countries where the Mediterranean diet is popular. The diet features vegetables, fruits, fish, whole grains, olive oil, and red wine.

Another factor in life expectancy is access to health care. Unlike most other industrialized nations, the United States does not guarantee prevention services and medical treatment for all its citizens. The World Health Organization ranks Spain's universal health-care system as the seventh-best in the world.

The IMHE study's predictions, published in the journal Lancet, were based on information the Global Burden of Diseases project compiled two years ago. Foreman and his colleagues considered forecasted rates of diabetes, cancer and HIV/AIDS, in addition to diet and the number of people expected to be smoking tobacco in the future.

The researchers warned that tobacco, alcohol, high blood pressure, large body-mass index, and high blood-sugar levels will be the leading causes of premature death in 2040. All of those factors are major issues in the United States, where the life-expectancy rate has fallen each of the past two years. The last time that happened was in 1962-63, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

The center cited a rise in accidental drug overdoses, which took the lives of 63,600 Americans in 2016; and the country's record-high obesity rate of 40 percent for adults and 18.5 percent for children.

Most other Western countries are enjoying longer lifespans. According to the IMHE research, the average resident of the United Kingdom will survive for 83.3 years by 2040, an increase of 2.5 years from 2016. In Germany, the rate is expected to go up 2.3 years to 83.2; while Australians are projected to live until age 84.1, 1.6 years longer than currently.

Syria is predicted to experience the biggest improvement, up more than a decade to 78.6 years of age. That would move the Middle Eastern country from 137th to 80th on the international list, although the researchers stipulated that their projection is dependent upon an end to the Syrian civil war.

The study suggested that the world's lowest life expectancy rate in 2040 will be 57.3 years, in the poor southern African nation of Lesotho. In 2016, the last-place ranking among 195 countries and territories belonged to the Central African Republic. The CAR and 17 other African nations are expected to see rises in their rates, ranging from 6.4 to 9.5 years.

“Inequalities will continue to be large,” said IHME Director Christopher Murray. “In a substantial number of countries, too many people will continue earning relatively low incomes, remain poorly educated and die prematurely. But nations could make faster progress by helping people tackle the major risks, especially smoking and poor diet.”

Experts agree that Americans make especially bad food choices. Diets high in saturated fats, sugars, and salt are common. Meals often feature more meat than vegetables. Eating a lot of green, leafy vegetables is a proven way to promote a long, healthy life. These foods contain high concentrations of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. The most nutrient-rich examples are spinach, kale, chard, collard greens, and romaine lettuce.

Other vegetables and fruits that nutritionists recommend include red and orange bell peppers, carrots, sweet potatoes, avocados, tomatoes, and mangos.

Fish is preferable to red meats because of its omega-3 fatty acids. Salmon is widely considered the best choice, though tuna and Arctic char are also highly praised. Among other healthy protein sources are chicken, turkey, eggs, beans, nuts, and soy.

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