24 April 2008

Life expectancy in America: not everything is so smooth

Rosen Skerble, Voice of America

A recently published study by Harvard Professor Majid Ezzati is devoted to trends in life expectancy in America.

It says that for forty years, from 1960 to 2000, the average life expectancy of men in the United States increased by 7 years, and women – by 6. However, about a quarter of a century ago, demographic differences appeared in the statistics of longevity of Americans.

The author of the study, Majid Ezzati, explains it this way:

"The gap between the advanced and lagging cohorts of the population has noticeably increased, that's the whole point. Not in all strata of society, as once in the past, there was an increase in life expectancy. For some, it has stalled, while for others it has shrunk altogether."

The study, which covered all regions of the United States, revealed that the most disadvantaged cohort are people with low incomes living in the south of the country. The racial factor did not matter much.

"Demographic differences in longevity," says Majid Ezzati, "are due to the poor quality of medical care, differences in geographical and socio-economic aspects."

It was clear to the researchers that smoking, hypertension and obesity have a bad effect on life expectancy. They also knew that the intervention of doctors can help a person to normalize his lifestyle and health. It is here, according to Majid Ezzati, that the health care system in the South fails.

"Isn't the root of the evil," he asks, "the scarcity of health budgets in the southern states? Or maybe the problem is that we put the responsibility for obesity and hypertension on the patient, and not on the health care system?".

The most disappointing statistics is the average life expectancy of women: over the past few decades, these indicators have worsened. Or, at least, did not improve in 20% of women and only 4% of men. Ezzati is sure that this is a very worrying trend for an industrially developed country.

"Such phenomena," he says, "are absolutely not characteristic of advanced countries. Until now, this has been the fate of those who have experienced the most severe social cataclysms, for example, the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, or African states that are being undermined by the HIV-AIDS epidemic."

And what's next?

"Monitoring should help us find out," Majid Ezzati believes, "what methods to use to counteract these trends, and how much money it will take. I hope funds will be allocated for this."

The study by Majid Ezzati and a group of colleagues was published in the journal Plos Medicine.

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