[ExI] Life expectancy reaches all-time high in U.S.

Max More max at maxmore.com
Fri Aug 21 15:34:38 UTC 2009

>The figures are from 2007. Pre-depression. Expect worsening death 
>figures for 2008, 2009, 2010.

Why do you expect a worsening for the next few years in particular? 
Is the economic downturn really having that much of an effect on the 
longevity numbers? (I'm not saying it's not true; I just haven't seen 
evidence for it and would be (un)happy to be directed to it.)

>Those living longer now grew up in the 1930s to 50s before the 
>present obesity epidemic in the US.

Yes, obesity and other self-inflicted problems may well put a stop -- 
at least for a while -- to further gains, or at least slow them down. 
This is true of most other wealthy countries too. It's just that the 
US leads the way.

BTW, I find it odd that it's hard to find figures on life expectancy 
for Hispanics in the US, even though the same is not true for blacks. 
Does anyone have a good source on this? (A quick look at the CDC's 
site didn't immediately yield that data except for infant mortality.)

>Look behind the total stats. The US is becoming two nations. One is 
>rich and long-lived, the other is poor and short-lived. A National 
>Health Service should help this situation. Another point is that the 
>US is a pretty dangerous place. Non-health related deaths are a 
>significant factor.

Ah, the expected response! But why would a National Health Service 
help the situation when-- as you say yourself -- "non-health related 
deaths are a significant factor"? It seems pretty clear that it is 
poor health-affecting behaviors that are the major problem, not medical care.

And, to whatever extent it *is* medical care differences, no NHS is 
needed (with all its obvious downsides). Tax-subsidized universal 
health care combined with a freer market in health care should be far superior.

Thomas Sowell says some things about this, here:

One of the many phony arguments for government-controlled medical 
care is that Americans do not have any longer life expectancy than in 
other countries, despite much higher medical expenditures.

This argument is phony because longevity depends on health-- and 
"health care" and "medical care" are not the same, no matter how many 
times the two are confused in the media or in politics. Health care 
includes things that doctor cannot do much about.

Homicide affects your longevity but there is not much that doctors 
can do about it when they arrive on the scene after you have been 
shot through the heart, except fill out the paperwork. Rates of 
homicide, obesity and narcotics usage are higher here than in many 
other countries, reducing our longevity.

But in the things that medical care can do something about-- like 
cancer survival rates-- the United States ranks at or near the top in 
the world. But that can change if we give up the real benefits of a 
top medical system for the visions and rhetoric of politicians.

Additional thoughts here:

Race, Income, Geography Influence US Life Expectancy
Contributed by Tom Harrison|  12 September, 2006  03:13 GMT

Although the average life span in the US continues to rise, gaps in 
life expectancy have changed little from 1982 to 2001. There is a 
wide gulf -- as much as 33 years -- between those who enjoy the best 
health and those who are most likely to suffer from illnesses, 
according to a new study published in PLoS Medicine.

The primary cause of the disparities between racial and geographic 
groups is early death from chronic disease and injuries, an analysis 
of data from the Census Bureau and the National Center for Health 
Statistics showed.

The differences were attributed to a combination of injuries and such 
preventable risk factors as smoking, alcohol, obesity, high blood 
pressure, elevated cholesterol, diet and physical inactivity -- 
particularly among people from 15 years to 59 years of age. They were 
not due to income, insurance, infant mortality, AIDS or violence, 
said the study's lead investigator, Christopher J.L. Murray, director 
of the Harvard Initiative for Global Health.

Personal choices could be more important than access to medical care 
in improving life expectancy, Dr. Murray noted. Half of the people 
who have high-blood pressure fail to get it controlled, two-thirds of 
those with high cholesterol do not get medication to lower it, and 
two-thirds of diabetics fail to manage the disease, in spite of the 
fact that 85 percent of the population overall has health insurance.

The U.S. medical system definitely needs major reform (but not in the 
direction of more state control). However, citing the lower average 
life expectancy compared to other countries as evidence of the 
system's inferiority seems to me to be either ignorant or dishonest, 
given the utterly different demographics. Compare more similar parts 
of the US population to that of other rich countries and the lag 
disappears. Let's keep the debate based on sensible comparisons.


Max More, Ph.D.
Strategic Philosopher
Extropy Institute Founder
max at maxmore.com

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