According to a new report, life expectancy in the United States took another hit in 2021, furthering a dramatic decline from 2020 that was the largest since World War II.
US life expectancy decreased from 78.86 years in 2019 to 76.99 years in 2020 and 76.60 years in 2021, a net loss of 2.26 years. In contrast, peer countries averaged a smaller decrease in life expectancy between 2019 and 2020 (0.57 years) and a 0.28-year increase between 2020 and 2021, widening the gap in life expectancy between the United States and peer countries to more than five years. The decrease in US life expectancy was highly racialized: whereas the most significant declines in 2020 occurred among Hispanic and non-Hispanic Black populations, in 2021, only the non-Hispanic White population experienced a decrease in life expectancy.
Only about one-quarter of people think someone can be very overweight and still healthy, according to the poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Ask about the most severe consequences; more than 7 in 10 Americans can correctly tick off heart disease and diabetes. Heart disease is the nation’s leading killer, and diabetes and obesity are twin epidemics, as rates of both have climbed in recent years.
However, only 7% of people surveyed mentioned cancer, although doctors have long known that fat increases the risk of developing cancers of the colon, breast, prostate, uterus, and specific other sites. Plus, being overweight can make it harder to spot tumors early and treat them.
High blood pressure, high cholesterol, and strokes were pretty low on the list. Infertility didn’t get a mention.
What about exercise? At least five hours of moderate-intensity activity per week may prevent certain cancers related to the breast, colon, stomach, kidney, bladder, and esophagus. But whose responsibility is it to let people know the dangers of being obese? Doctors have refrained from telling patients, and insurance companies usually send a letter.
Total national health expenditures grew by nearly $365 billion in 2020 compared to 2019. About one-third (almost $119 billion) of that growth in spending can be attributed to the increase in spending on public health, which includes federal spending to develop COVID-19 vaccines under Operation Warp Speed, strategic stockpiles of drugs and vaccines, and health facility preparedness. An increase in hospital expenditures contributed 20.9% of the growth, reflecting increased federal payments and loans to hospitals for COVID-19 relief (through the Provider Relief Fund and Paycheck Protection Program), as well as increased Medicaid spending. Meanwhile, health spending on dental services, research, structures, and equipment declined from the prior year. In short, we can’t sustain the increase in healthcare spending.
Life expectancy in the US will continue to decline until we get serious about communicating the dangers of unhealthy lifestyles.