US continues to fall behind other nations on life expectancy

Based on a county-by-county analysis of health data across the United States, Seattle researchers report that Americans’ life expectancy in general is falling behind that of most other wealthy nations.

“Despite the fact that the US spends more per capita than any other nation on health, eight out of every 10 counties are not keeping pace in terms of health outcomes,” said Chris Murray, director of the UW’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation and a co-author of the study. “That’s a staggering statistic.”

Women did worse, in some parts of the nation faring about as well as in a developing country. Here is a map the researchers created showing changes in life expectancy for women between 1987-2007, with a concentrated decline in the southeastern U.S. states:

Changes in life expectancy for women in U.S., 1987-2007

The researchers say that the relatively low life expectancies in the US cannot be explained by the size of the nation, racial diversity, or economics. Instead, the authors point to high rates of obesity, tobacco use, and other preventable risk factors for an early death as the leading drivers of the gap between the US and other nations.

The Seattle Times’ Carol Ostrom looked at the data for Washington state, noting that some counties even in this relatively affluent corner of the country fare pretty poorly. She quotes IHME’s Ali Mokdad saying: “It’s a wake-up call for all of us.”

Well, one can hope.

This isn’t the first time health or development data has shown the U.S. scores about as well as a middle-income country. See this post on “Third World America.” The IHME also had a similar study out earlier.

Here are a few more stories on this report:

U.S. News and World Report: U.S found to be losing ground in life expectancy

CNN: Life expectancy in U.S. trails other nations

LA Times: Life expectancy for U.S. women slips in some regions


About Author

Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at] or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.

  • J. Learn

    Very interesting report. However the caption for the map shown here is incorrect. It is the female panel of figure 1A: “County life expectancy in 2007” – not changes in life expectancy. 

    • Actually, that is how this chart is labeled by the researchers. You appear to be correct, insofar as how it is displayed, but I suspect the color coding implies the change over time (with red being those counties that had the greatest decline, etc).