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  • Wendell Brock

Should You Be Concerned About The Decreasing Life Expectancy In the U.S.

Life expectancy is considered the average number of years at birth a person will live. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services figures these numbers by tracking several contributing factors including age, gender, and race. Typically, women are expected to live longer than men. Financial planners will take this into account when estimating how long a planned retirement needs to last.

Up until the last couple of years the life expectancy of the average American had been on the rise. However, as of 2020 life expectancy for Americans has dropped from 78.9 years to 76.3. (81.4 for women) That’s a decline of 2.6 years. In contrast, peer countries averaged a smaller decrease in life expectancy between the same period (0.57 years) and even a 0.28-year increase between 2020 and 2021, thus widening the gap in life expectancy between the United States and its contemporaries to more than five years.

So, what changed? Over the years, safer living conditions as well as advancements in medical care had led to a gradual increase in life expectancy. In 1860 the life expectancy was only 39 years. But by 1960, a hundred years later, the life expectancy for the average American had increased to 69 years, an increase of 30 years. However, medical advancements, technological advancements have placed the average person into a sedentary lifestyle, spending most of their workday in an office chair, instead of the more physically demanding occupations of the past. 

A contributing factor is the Standard American Diet (SAD). People went from consuming home cooked meals to grab-and-go convenient meals and drive through fast foods, which are seriously lacking in overall nutrition and filled with added ingredients our predecessors never even heard of. It’s easy to see the difference this can make in a person’s health when compared to America’s peers, especially the European countries, which still primarily eat homemade meals prepared with local vegetables. The consistent leading causes of death over the past decade in the States, which directly correlate to the average life expectancy, are cardiovascular disease, cancer, respiratory disease, and diabetes. All of these are affected by a person’s diet and lifestyle. 

Another thing to consider is the difference between life expectancy and healthy life expectancy. The “healthy life expectancy” considers the “quality of life” not just how long a person lives. Most charts show a 16-year difference between the healthy life expectancy and the overall life expectancy. In other words, the average American is expected to have declining or poor health for their last 16 years. It’s one thing to live a long life, it’s another to live a long life with good health, being able to enjoy those years.

By establishing a healthy lifestyle-moving throughout the day and consistent exercise, and eating a healthy diet the human body will maintain a healthy state longer and will help avoid health problems associated with a sedentary lifestyle and a poor diet. After spending a good portion of your working life planning and preparing for retirement you should be able to enjoy those golden years. You only get one life; how will you live yours?

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