US is lagging in life expectancy gains because too many are fat, sedentary and smoking

The United States (shown in red) has fallen behind other developed countries in life expectancy gains in recent decades. Shown above is the average number of additional years of life expected for a man who has reached age 50 in 10 nations (Australia, Japan, Canada, Sweden, Italy, France, England/Wales, Netherlands, United States and Denmark)

Americans are among the most sedentary people, vying with Poland for the dubious status of topping that category, followed by Italy, England and Spain.

Nearly all countries show a decline in smoking, with Denmark the exception. Americans have been among the heaviest smokers in the past, but Japan holds that distinction now. Even so, the damage of past smoking lingers. Deaths attributable to smoking in past decades continue to substantially hurt life expectancy in the United States, Belgium, Hungary, Denmark and Canada.

With the exception of Japan, the obesity epidemic extends throughout the developed world. The United States leads the pack there, followed by Canada, England and Australia. And while the risks of obesity show up in the form of diabetes, stroke and heart disease, the true repercussions of obesity and a sedentary lifestyle in the United States might not yet be apparent, Preston says. “We are possibly setting the stage, in our behavior, for continued [life expectancy] shortfalls,” he concludes.

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