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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

A U.S. Disgrace: Guns, Vehicle Crashes, and Drug Overdoses Shorten Life Expectancy

According to government researchers, “Guns, vehicle crashes and drug overdoses help explain a big part of why Americans die, on average, so much younger than people in other countries (48% of the gap in men's life expectancy between the U.S. and similar countries, and in women 19%). The three represent the largest causes of U.S. injury death.

Considering the U.S. spends so much more than other countries on health care and yet falls right in the middle when it comes to life expectancy, the research is very revealing.

These three causes of death account for 6 percent of deaths among U.S. men and 3 percent among U.S. women. Together, they are responsible for more than 100,000 deaths per year.

When compared with other “high-income” countries – Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom – men in these countries live, on average, 2.2 years longer than Americans: 78.6 years versus 76.4 years for men (and 83.4 years versus 81.2 years for women.) For men, the three injuries accounted for about half that difference, or one year of life, the NCHS team found.

(Maggie Fox. “What's Killing Americans? Guns, Cars and Drugs.” NBC News. February 9, 2016.)

The American Medical Association says much of this life expectancy gap reflects mortality at younger ages when mortality is dominated by injury deaths, and many decades of expected life are lost.

Andrew Fenelon, a senior service fellow at the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics and senior author of the study, says an earlier study found that death rates among middle-aged white Americans, unlike other age groups, have been on the rise since 1999, largely because of increases in rates of drug and alcohol abuse and suicide. The current findings support the idea that these types of injuries are major causes of death, and they have probably all been on the rise in recent decades.

Ellen Meara, associate professor of health policy and clinical practice at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, claims:

"Our rates of drug poisoning and all of these external causes (of death) are so much more than other countries.”

However, this has not always been the case. "If you go back far enough in the 1980s, we compared much more favorably in life expectancy with other countries, and gradually over time they improved more than the U.S.," Meara said. "We have to look to see what we are doing or have been doing differently since the 1980s -- it's not like we can't achieve what other countries have."

It could also bear looking at what the United States is doing differently in terms of addressing other causes of death as well. The remainder of the life expectancy gap is probably due to a combination of causes, including higher infant mortality rates here and higher rates of deaths related to smoking, Fenelon says.

(Carina Storrs. “Why Americans don't live as long as Europeans.” CNN. February 09, 2016.)

Especially Alarming: Losing Life to Firearms

Firearm-related injuries accounted for 21 percent of the gap, drug overdose 14 percent, and motor vehicle crashes 13 percent. Americans are seven times more likely to be murdered than people in the other countries, and 20 times more likely to be killed by a gun.

Dr. Mark Rosenberg, who helped establish the Centers for Disease Control's (CDC) national center for injury prevention and control before becoming president and CEO of the non-profit Task Force for Global Health, says this research in the latest issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (Jama) shows why the CDC needs funding to research gun violence. He is a proponent of research that examines how to reduce gun violence and how to protect the rights of law-abiding gun owners.

If you think about the potential for saving lives there through a research effort, it’s extraordinarily high,” said Rosenberg. “But we haven’t done it – we’ve been paralyzed and the toll is huge.”

If an injury death takes the life of someone who is 30, they may be losing the difference between 30 years and the expected life of 75 years, so you may be robbing them of 45 years of expected life,” Rosenberg said.

The study shows that in 2012, more than 28,800 people died from gun injuries in the US, compared with 2,734 people, on average, in the comparison countries.

Dr Frederick Rivara, a University of Washington chair who has worked in the field of injury control for more than 30 years, said that the role of firearms in US life expectancy is “a national disgrace.”

Congress has fought proposals to fund CDC research on gun violence since 1996, despite calls from leading medical groups and public health experts. This is thus one of the few government-backed analyses of trends in gun injuries.

We have the Second Amendment in the United States – that’s a fact, it’s not going to go away and we have to respect that,” Rivara said. “On the other hand, we have to realize that guns are an enormous public health problem and we have to do what we can to address that as well.”

(Amanda Holpuch. “Guns, Car Crashes, and Drugs Cut U.S. Male Life Expectancy by a Year Research Says.” The Guardian. February 09, 2016.)

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