The United States may lead the world in some categories, but life expectancy isn’t one of them. According to a recent study published in The Lancet, the US dropped from 43rd to 64th place in the life expectancy rankings, lagging severely behind other advanced nations. By 2040, the average life expectancy in the US is projected to be 79.8 years while that of Japan is 85.7 years, and frontrunner Spain is 85.8 years. This will represent a mere 1.1-year increase from 2016 when the average lifespan in the US was 78.7 years. The slip in the rankings is the largest ever seen from a high-income nation.
Led by researchers at the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), the study used data from the 2016 Global Burden of Disease study to predict life expectancies in 195 countries and territories. Although Japan previously held the top spot, fourth-place Spain took over this year, followed closely by Singapore (85.4 years), Switzerland (85.2 years), and Portugal (84.5 years). Lesotho received the unfortunate ranking of last on the list with a 57.3-year life expectancy.
Health factors such as high blood pressure, obesity, high blood sugar, and environmental conditions like air pollution are huge contributors to the overall life expectancy. The United States’s case was not helped by the opioid crisis, which took 63,600 lives in 2016, dealing a damaging blow to the nation’s average life expectancy.
The study’s findings, however, aren’t infallible predictions of the future. With proper lifestyle adjustments and widespread changes in exercise and nutrition, that life expectancy number could increase. For example, a June report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that just 32 percent of US adults get enough exercise. If Americans made a conscious effort to improve their exercise regimen, their longevity projection would be improved as well. Kyle Foreman, director of data science at IHME, holds a positive outlook. “The future of the world’s health,” he said in a statement, “is not preordained.” He adds that ultimately, our life expectancies depend “on how well or poorly health systems address key health drivers.”