Low American life expectancy: ‘Disappointing, but not surprising’

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Mississippians live an average of 10 years less than residents of Japan.

A strong commitment to community-based primary care would help Americans live longer and better, according to a new report.

That recommendation is among ways to improve life expectancy in the United States, which lags behind other countries, despite the U.S. spending the most money on health care of any nation on earth. The new Commonwealth Fund report states the issue plainly in its title: “Americans, No Matter the State They Live In, Die Younger Than People in Many Other Countries.”

Researchers compared the 50 states, District of Columbia and other developed countries that are part of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). They compared two measures: average life expectancy and higher avoidable mortality, or deaths that could have been prevented with appropriate health care.

“We find that regardless of where they live, Americans are more likely to die earlier than people in many other countries,” the report said. “And they’re more likely to die from factors that could have been prevented with the right care provided at the right time.”

Average life expectancy for a newborn in the United States was 78.8 years. Among the 50 states and District of Columbia, 28 have life expectancies less than 78.8 years.

Mississippi had the lowest life expectancy at 74.4 years, a full decade behind Japan, which ranked first in the world among developed nations with a life expectancy at birth of 84.4 years.

The figures are “disappointing, but not surprising,” the report said. Along with the commitment to primary care, researchers noted other countries offer health care with benefits to their citizens:

  • Universal insurance coverage with minimal cost barriers.
  • Few administrative burdens that can hinder access to care.
  • Well-resourced social services that can support healthier populations and reduce stress on the care delivery system.

The figures represent rates from 2016 to 2019 and do not account for the COVID-19 pandemic that reduced life expectancy in the United States and other countries.

Here are the 11 states with the shortest life expectancies.