Living large, and dying earlier, in America

Here’s a post from my friend Dr. Michael McCarthy identifying a “bad news / good news” trend that few U.S. media outlets appear to have noticed as such. Basically, mortality rates are dropping worldwide but U.S. death rates are getting worse by comparison to others. Most stories that did point this out were initially out of Canada, the Canadians celebrating that their longevity (in comparison to ours) moved up in rank.



By Michael McCarthy


U.S. adult mortality rates slip to 49th for women, 45th for men

The chances that an adult American will live to the age 60 are worse than they are for adults living in Western Europe and even such low-income countries such as Chile, Tunisia and Albania, Seattle researchers report.

The study, conducted by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, looked at the chances that someone who had just turned 15 will die before they reached age 60 in 187 countries.

The study found that in the U.S. a woman’s chances of dying were 77/1000 before the age of 60, while a man’s chance were 130/1000.

For comparison, the odds of dying for a woman in top-ranked Cyprus was 38/1000 and 65/1000 for men in top-ranked Iceland.

The 2010 U.S. mortality rates pushed the U.S. down from 34th in the world for women in 1990 to 49th today and for men from 41st to 45th place.

Male, female mortality risk trend worldwide, The Lancet

Although mortality rates in the U.S. actually improved during that time, they did not improve as much as they did in many other countries, which caused the U.S. rankings to slip. (Note from Tom: The vertical axis in the graph labeled “45q15 per 1,000” basically means the chance of dying before age 60).

Overall, worldwide mortality rates for both men and women have dropped substantially over the past four decades, declining 34 percent for women and 19 percent for men globally.

But the gap grew between top- and bottom-ranked countries as progress slowed and in some cases reversed in some parts of the world. In fact, in 37 countries mortality rates are higher today than they were two decades ago.

In sub-Saharan Africa mortality rates rose in the 1990s, largely due to the HIV/AIDS epidemic but since 2005 mortality rates have declined substantially as prevention and treatment programs have started to have an effect.

Nevertheless, in Swaziland, a nation hard-hit by HIV/AIDS, the odds for a man of dying before the age of 60 is now 765/1000, nine time worse than they are for a man living in Cyprus, where the odds are only 85/1000.

Both Eastern Europe and Russia also saw their mortality rates climb, with Russia, for example, falling from 43rd place for female mortality in 1970 to 121st today.

Other areas, however, have seen remarkable progress. For example, South Asia had the highest female mortality rates in the world in 1970 but today a woman living in India has a better chance of living to 60 than a man living in the U.S. did in 1997.

The lead author of the paper, which appears in the British medical journal The Lancet, is Professor Julie Knoll Rajaratnam, Ph.D. The senior author is Dr. Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

The study was funded the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


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