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Studies: Americans Shorter, Living Shorter Lives

August 12, 2007

New statistics released this week show that Americans are once again coming up in short when it comes to the health of nations. Just weeks after researchers found that Americans had relinquished their crown as the world's tallest people to the Dutch, a new study revealed that life expectancy in the U.S. had plummeted to 42nd worldwide.
The data, compiled by the Census Bureau and the National Center for Health Statistics, shows a precipitous drop in the U.S. ranking from 11th 20 years ago. (It is worth noting that the survey now tracks many more nations.) At 77.9 years for a baby born in 2004, American life expectancy trails most of Europe, as well as leaders Andorra, Japan, Macao, San Marino and Singapore.
Researchers attribute Americans' dismal performance to a host of factors, of which the lack of national health insurance is but one. American rates of obesity far exceed most other nations. More disturbing still, racial disparities in infant mortality and life expectancy are staggering. African-Americans children can expect to live 73.3 years, with the number dropping to 69.8 for black males. African-American infant mortality rates of 13.7 for every 1,000 lives births are similar to those in Saudi Arabia and double the U.S. average of 6.8.
According to Christopher Murray of the University of Washington, Americans' prospects of moving back up in the rankings involve more that addressing the 46 million uninsured:

He said policymakers also should focus on reducing cancer, heart disease and lung disease. He advocates stepped up efforts to reduce tobacco use, control blood pressure, reduce cholesterol and regulate blood sugar. "Even if we focused only on those four things, we would go along way toward improving healthcare in the United States," Murray said.

The life expectancy findings added insult to injury for Americans' pride over their comparative health. In June, a study by the Princeton and Munich universities showed that the United States now has the shortest population in the industrialized world. Reversing over 200 years of continuous leadership, Americans (5'10" average height for a man) now trail the Dutch (6'1") and the Swiss (6'), among others. In 1850, Americans were on average two inches taller than their counterparts in the Netherlands. Again, fingers are being pointed at immigration patterns, Americans' lifestyles, diet, obesity and troubled 37th ranked health care system as factors in the literal decline of the U.S.
For ever-competitive Americans accustomed to global leadership, the life expectancy and height numbers are more than interesting factoids. They are just the latest indicators that the American standard of living, once the focus of global envy, is increasingly coming up short.

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Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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