Guns, Cars And Drugs Explain Why Americans Die Younger Than Europeans


The life expectancy of Americans is about two years shorter compared with those who live in other high-income countries. World Bank figures reveal that as of 2012, the life expectancy in the U.S. at birth was 78.7 years. In the UK and France, life expectancy was 81.5 years and 82.6 years, respectively.

Main Drivers Of Premature Death In The U.S.

In a new study published in Journal of the American Medical Association on Feb. 9, researchers compared the death rates by age, gender and cause of people who live in the U.S. and those who live in 12 other developed countries namely Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the UK.

Findings revealed that car crashes, shooting and drug overdoses are the three main drivers of premature death among Americans and that life expectancy in the U.S. is lower than that of other developed countries.

Study researcher Andrew Fenelon, from CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, said that although the three causes only account for about 4 percent of overall deaths in the U.S., they largely contribute to why American life expectancy is lower compared with similar countries particularly among young people.

"This study estimated the contribution of 3 causes of injury death to the gap in life expectancy at birth between the United States and 12 comparable countries in 2012," Fenelon and colleagues wrote. "We focused on motor vehicle traffic (MVT) crashes, firearm-related injuries, and drug poisonings, the 3 largest causes of US injury death responsible for more than 100,000 deaths per year."

The three causes are also responsible for the 48 percent gap in average life expectancy of men between the U.S. and similar countries taking off about a year of Americans' lives. Fenelon added that if deaths from these causes are reduced, Americans may live about a year longer.

Better Policies May Cut Rates Of Premature Death

What shorten life expectancy in the U.S. are preventable deaths. Benedikt Fischer, from Simon Fraser University in Toronto, Canada, who was not part of the research, said that adopting efficient policies may help extend life expectancy.

"All three major problems we know are modifiable, and targeted well-informed effective policies can make a great difference," Fischer said adding that most drug poisonings that happen can be attributed to prescription drug overdoses.

The U.S. currently faces a prescription painkiller overdose epidemic with 44 people dying everyday from overdose. From 2000 to 2014, drug overdose killed nearly half a million. In 2014, opioid overdose deaths increased by 14 percent from 2013 setting record levels.

Proposals to reduce death from drug overdose include providing health care professionals with new guidelines for prescribing drugs and expanding use of naloxone, a drug that can reverse symptoms of opioid overdose.

As for gun-related deaths, a 2013 study found that states with more gun laws tend to have lower rates of gun-related deaths such as homicide and suicide.

Preventing Deaths By Adopting Best Practices

Car crashes are among the top causes of injury in the U.S. but observing best practices can help prevent crash injuries and deaths. Experts, for instance, discourage driving for those who lack sleep as drowsiness can up risks for road accidents.

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