Life expectancy continued to fall in the United States in 2017, for the third year in a row. It is both a tragedy for the country of Donald Trump and a warning for Canada.
The United States is losing “too many Americans, too early and too often, to conditions that are preventable,” lamented Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Redfield first sounded the alarm following the release of the most recent statistics on life expectancy for our southern neighbors. From 78.9 years in 2014, it has dropped to 78.6 years in 2017.
When we put the figures in perspective, the phenomenon is even more troubling.
The last time the U.S. faced such a prolonged decline in life expectancy was at the beginning of the last century.
As the American media noted, the country was at that time dealing with the Spanish flu and had lost a number of soldiers in Europe, where World War II was raging.
Think about it: The world’s leading power is regressing, while life expectancy is generally continuing to climb in developed countries and some are even pushing the limits of longevity.
It was rightly reported that suicides and the opioid crisis are factors linked to this decrease in life expectancy. There were more than 70,000 fatal overdoses last year in the United States, a sad record, and more than 47,000 suicides. Note that the ubiquity of guns in America could be to blame: Seven suicides in 10 were committed with a firearm.
These two problems are extremely serious. But that does not necessarily mean that they are the only causes of the decline of life expectancy. A group of American researchers recently analyzed mortality in adults aged 25 to 64 and found that “deep, systemic causes” must be accounted for. They are at the heart of a “U.S. health disadvantage,” their report reads. The statement is pulled from a report, published five years ago, which compared health in the United States and in other developed countries.
According to the lead researcher, Dr. Steven H. Woolf, the root causes range from health behaviors to environmental conditions, including, of course, deficiencies in the health system, socioeconomic inequality and public policies that accentuate the problems instead of fixing them.
Moreover, expert Marie-France Raynault, who leads the Léa-Roback Research Center on Social Inequalities in Health in Montreal, is not the least surprised by what is happening in Trump’s country. “The more social inequality there is, the more health inequality there will be and the more the life expectancy will deteriorate,” she explains.
Should we feel good when we compare our countries? Yes, but be careful.
Life expectancy has begun to fall in British Columbia due to the ravages of opioids, Theresa Tam, the chief public health officer of Canada, recently announced.
And if the inequalities are not as glaring in Canada as they are in the United States, the fact is that they are worsening. The efforts to reverse this trend are obviously not substantial enough here either. Our decision makers could benefit from learning from America’s mistakes.
In the United States (2017)
Life Expectancy: 78.6 years
Men: 76.1 years
Women: 81.1 years
Source: CDC/National Center for Health Statistics
In Canada (2014 to 2016)
Life Expectancy: 82 years
Men: 79,9 years
Women: 84 years
Source: Statistique Canada