The United States is one of the wealthiest countries in the world so you would think its citizens would have a great life expectancy rate. If we told you that they don’t, you’d probably say it is because of the large number of Americans who are obese and live sedentary lifestyles. And while those are very likely contributing factors to the shorter-than-expected lifespans, there appear to be other important factors in play as well. In fact, new research suggests that the three major reasons for earlier death among Americans are all forms of preventable injuries–not obesity.
The study, which took place at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia, found that deaths due to car accidents, drug overdoses (including prescription drugs), and gun violence are significant contributors to the gap in life expectancy rates between the U.S. and similar developed nations.1 Fenelon, Andrew; Chen, Li-Hui; and Baker, Susan P. “Major Causes of Injury Death and the Life Expectancy Gap Between the United States and Other High-Income Countries.” Journal of the American Medical Association. 9 February 2016. Accessed 14 February 2016. http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=2488300 The findings were based on the scientists’ evaluation of 2012 data collected by the United States government and the World Health Organization.
When the U.S. information was analyzed, it showed that drug poisonings and overdoses, gun injuries, and car crashes are the top three causes of death among Americans younger than 44. And this tremendously influences life expectancy rates because in most cases it shaves several decades off of these victims’ lives. The death rate for these three categories of injury in the U.S. far surpassed those of any of the comparable developed nations also considered in the investigation. The countries included in addition to America were Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.
For men, the average life expectancy rate in these 12 nations is 78.6 years old. In contrast, in the U.S., the rate is 76.4 years old, and deaths from guns, drugs, and cars were responsible for nearly half of the more than two-year difference. Perhaps surprisingly, women were shown to lose the same 2.2 years as men in this comparison. The average life expectancy among women in the other countries listed was 83.4 years old, while for U.S. women it was 81.2 years old. But deaths due to injury were only responsible for approximately 20 percent of the difference here.
Some of the categories of injury affect one gender more than the other. It’s hardly shocking that gun deaths are a much bigger factor among men than women. But the difference between American men and their counterparts in the other countries is significant. The rate of gun deaths in the U.S. is a whopping 18.4 per 100,000 men. In contrast, this rate is merely one per 100,000 men in the countries of comparison. For the women, casualties caused by drugs are the main contributor to their lower life span. In the U.S., the drug-related death rate is 10 per 100,000 women, while in the countries of comparison it is less than two per 100,000 women.
The data gathered took into account accidental and intentional deaths as well as suicides in all three categories of injuries. The deaths due to drugs included both those resulting from prescription medications and illegal forms of drugs.
In an ideal world, we would have control over everything in our lives and the lives of our loved ones. But that is not reality. Still, we should strive to do the best we can and help those around us to stay safe. It’s important to always remember that driving is not something to be taken lightly and you should never get behind the wheel if you are under the influence of any kind of substance. It is equally essential for gun owners to keep their weapons unloaded and locked up, with the ammunition in a separate place to guard against accidents.
And if someone you care for has developed a drug problem, try to provide them with every bit of support possible to help them kick the habit before it’s too late. Don’t be complacent if it is a pharmaceutical medication prescribed by a doctor, either–a 2010 study at West Virginia University School of Medicine in Morgantown found that prescription painkillers are the leading cause of drug overdose deaths.2 Coben, Jeffrey H.; et al. “Hospitalizations for Poisoning by Prescription Opioids, Sedatives, and Tranquilizers.” American Journal of Preventive Medicine. May 2010. Accessed 15 February 2016. http://www.ajpmonline.org/article/S0749-3797(10)00099-1/abstract Remember: opioid painkillers are highly addictive–and very deadly. If we make a little more effort in these areas, it may make a major difference in changing these statistics over time. And if you are currently on track to be one of those statistics, it could make a major difference in your life.
|↑1||Fenelon, Andrew; Chen, Li-Hui; and Baker, Susan P. “Major Causes of Injury Death and the Life Expectancy Gap Between the United States and Other High-Income Countries.” Journal of the American Medical Association. 9 February 2016. Accessed 14 February 2016. http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=2488300|
|↑2||Coben, Jeffrey H.; et al. “Hospitalizations for Poisoning by Prescription Opioids, Sedatives, and Tranquilizers.” American Journal of Preventive Medicine. May 2010. Accessed 15 February 2016. http://www.ajpmonline.org/article/S0749-3797(10)00099-1/abstract|