Shrinking Life Expectancy in the USA

Over the past several years, life expectancy in the USA has been declining at a shocking rate according to experts. Young people are dying at a higher rate compared to other developed and wealthy countries and as we have noted before, the USA has one of the highest maternal and infant mortality rates than other developed nation.

This is a complex situation so the myopic focus on individual health risk behavior alone is not the solution. Just consider that even individual behaviors are complex with layers of social and environmental contributing factors. 

The state of health – or lack of health – in the USA is a result of many causes including healthcare accessibility, affordability, and the fact that the focus of healthcare in America is well, ‘sick care’ not healthcare. Other countries focus on prevention while care in the USA focuses on treating chronic disease. And shouldn’t we have the best care

We are unsurpassed when it comes to diagnosing and treating chronic and rare diseases, at least for those who can afford it and can access the care. However, what would it look like if we focused on promoting health and preventing disease? One physician in the article stated, “If we came in last in the next Olympics, imagine what we would do.” Just imagine!

Researchers have looked at why this is happening in a country priding itself on scientific advances. The findings found problems in all aspects reviewed including,

  • Public health and medical care systems; 
  • Individual behaviors like diet and tobacco use; 
  • Social factors such as poverty and inequality; 
  • The physical environment; 
  • Public policies and values; 
  • Not to mention acts of violence, teen pregnancy, drug overdoses, HIV, fatal car crashes, injuries, and social isolation.

A year-long Washington Post examination reveals that this erosion in life spans is deeper and broader than widely recognized, afflicting a far-reaching swath of the United States (AN EPIDEMIC OF CHRONIC ILLNESS IS KILLING US TOO SOON).

Based on the Post’s mortality data analysis, opioids and gun violence have rightly seized the public’s attention, stealing hundreds of thousands of lives, but chronic diseases are the greatest threat, killing far more people between 35 and 64 every year.

However, heart disease and cancer remained, even at the height of the pandemic, the leading causes of death for people 35 to 64. Many other conditions have become all too common, such as diabetes and liver disease including fatty liver disease.  

Workplace wellness programs can make a difference in the lives of employees and their families, especially if a broader, more wholistic, and more inclusive model of wellness is used. Many workplace wellness programs focus on prevention and promotion, although far too numerous only focus on physical health promotion and prevention within a medical model of identifying risks and treating disease. 

To be more effective, workplace wellness programs must broaden the focus of wellness to influence determining factors of health and embrace all the dimensions of wellness. This requires moving well beyond a focus on physical health and individual risk factors alone. It can feel messy and uncertain, but this is where the real wellness outcomes will emerge!

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