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Why Americans Die So Young

People in the US drink and smoke less than Europeans—but eating, driving and drug habits shorten our lives.

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By Ben Feuerherd

01/11/13

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"Health behaviors," like overeating and alcohol and drug abuse, are partly to blame for Americans dying at a younger age than people in other affluent democracies, a new report shows. The average length of life for US males—at 75.64 years—is the lowest out of the 16 developed countries in the report, including Australia, Canada, Japan and numerous countries in Western Europe. In Switzerland, the country with the highest average, men can expect to live 79.33 years. US women have the second lowest average length of life, at 80.76 years; women in Japan average 85.96 years. The average years of life lost before the age of 50 due to drug or alcohol abuse for in the US is nearly double the average of people in America's "peer" countries—even though people in Europe, for example, drink considerably more. "Although Americans are currently less likely to smoke and may drink alcohol less heavily than people in peer countries," the report from the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine reads, "they consume the most calories per person, have higher rates of drug abuse, are less likely to use seat belts, are involved in more traffic accidents that involve alcohol, and are more likely to use firearms in acts of violence." Spending on healthcare doesn't seem to halt these depressing trends: The US spends more on healthcare, per capita, than almost any other country in the world. But America's healthcare system is more unreliable than those in other Western democracies, the report shows. "Unlike its peer countries, the United States has a relatively large uninsured population," it reads, "and more limited access to primary care. Americans are more likely to find their health care inaccessible or unaffordable."

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