Despite making up only 5 percent of the world's population, the United States generates 20 percent of global total income, making it the largest economy. But America’s workforce is dying faster than in any other country, according to data from Virginia Commonwealth University.
The research, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found rising mortality in U.S. adults, ages 25 to 64, due to overdoses, suicides and economic stresses.
“U.S. life expectancy has not kept pace with that of other wealthy countries and is now decreasing,” the study pointed out. And “the implications for public health and the economy are substantial, making it vital to understand the underlying causes.”
Despite leading the world in per-capita spending on health care, the United States still comes in with the worst midlife mortality rate among 17 high-income countries. While life expectancy has actually ticked up in other industrialized nations, it’s decreased in America from a peak of 78.9 years in 2014 to 78.6 in 2017, per the data.
That’s compared to a global average of 82.2 years, according to the Peterson-Kaiser Health System Tracker. In Canada, it’s 81.9 years; in France, it’s 82.4 years; and in Japan, the average life expectancy is 84.1 years, a full 5.2 years higher than in the United States.
“It would be easier if we could blame this trend on one problem, like guns or obesity or the opioid epidemic, all of which distinguish the U.S. from the other countries,’’ Steven Woolf, the study’s lead author and director emeritus of the VCU Center on Society and Health, told USA Today. “But we found increases in death rates across 35 causes of death.”
Some of the top causes: drug overdoses, hypertensive diseases and suicides. Between 1999 and 2017, midlife mortality rates spiked 386 percent. They increased nearly 79 percent for hypertensive diseases and more than 38 percent for suicides.
The instances were most noticeable in the industrial Midwest, the 13 Appalachian states and upper New England, according to the findings. And of the top 10 states, the highest number of excess deaths, eight were in the Rust Belt or Appalachia. Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio and Pennsylvania together accounted for one-third of the total deaths.
Woolf said that lives lost in prime years are a long-range threat to the economy.
“Not only are employers more likely to see premature deaths in their workers, but also greater illness rates and greater disability, and that puts U.S. businesses at a disadvantage against businesses in other countries that have a healthier and more productive workforce.”