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Smoking, Obesity Contribute to Poor U.S. Longevity

U.S. lives shorter compared to other countries due to past smoking rates, current obesity levels

WEDNESDAY, Jan. 26 (HealthDay News) -- Life expectancy in the United States is lower than in many other high-income nations due in large part to the nation's history of heavy smoking and current high obesity levels, according to a report published online Jan. 25, by the National Research Council.

Eileen M. Crimmins, Ph.D., of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, and colleagues analyzed trends in life expectancy utilizing the Human Mortality Database. They studied why U.S. life expectancy at age 50 rose more slowly over the last 25 years than in many other high-income countries, such as Japan and Australia.

Smoking appeared to be one of the biggest reasons for the observed difference in lifespan gains, especially among women. The report notes that the current mortality rates reflect the fact that three to five decades ago, smoking was much more widespread in the United States than in Europe or Japan. Obesity accounted for a fifth to a third of the shortfall in longevity in the United States compared to other nations. The researchers suggested that if the obesity trend continues, it may offset the lifespan improvements expected from falling smoking rates. Lack of universal access to health care was identified as a lesser cause of reduced life expectancy, especially in those over age 65, because of Medicare access. The panel found little evidence to support the role of other factors, such as strength of social ties.

"The panel concluded that a history of heavy smoking and current levels of obesity are playing a substantial role in the poor longevity performance of the United States," the authors write.

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