Life expectancy in the U.S. continues to fall after COVID-19; lower than in Cuba, Lebanon, and Czechia

By Brian Ward

A new study has shown that life expectancy for the average American decreased to 76 years in 2021, down from 79 years in 2019. While almost every country saw a drop in life expectancy during 2020 and the outbreak of COVID-19, most developed countries rebounded by 2021—with the United States being the exception.

Research has found that regardless of age or demographics, Americans die younger than their counterparts in other developed nations. In fact, the average American has a lower life expectancy than people living in Cuba, Lebanon, Uruguay, and Czechia. In addition, a paper from the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found mortality rates are on the rise for U.S. children and teenagers. And that maternal mortality reached a new high in 2021.

"This is the first time in my career that I've ever seen [an increase in pediatric mortality] – it's always been declining in the United States for as long as I can remember," says the lead author of the JAMA paper, Steven Woolf, director emeritus of the Center on Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University. "Now, it's increasing at a magnitude that has not occurred at least for half a century."

According to Woolf and the authors of the National Research Council paper, “Shorter Lives, Poorer Health,” there’s not one reason for the decline but several, and reversing the trend will require a multidisciplinary approach. Factors like poor diet and exercise do contribute to mortality, but Woolf and Co. stress that, "even Americans with healthy behaviors, for example, those who are not obese or do not smoke, appear to have higher disease rates than their peers in other countries."

For their study, Woolf, et al, divided health factors into five different categories:

  1. Public health and medical care system
  2. Individual behaviors
  3. Social factors
  4. Physical environment
  5. Public policies and values

"In every one of those five buckets, we found problems that distinguish the United States from other countries," Woolf wrote.

Read the full report to get a breakdown of the many issues harming life expectancy in the U.S.

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