What ’s in a number? Looking at life expectancy in the US

If you were to sum up the overall health of a nation in one single number, what would that be? At the top of the list, you would likely find average life expectancy — the total number of years, on average, that a person in a country can expect to live. Wars, famine, and economic crises are expected to lower life expectancy. Breakthroughs in science, strong economies, and behaviors like eating a healthy diet, exercising, and avoiding tobacco typically raise average life expectancy. An amazing rise, a surprising fall Between 1959 and 2014, the United States experienced an unprecedented increase in life expectancy, which rose from 69.9 years to 78.9 years. The simple thought of adding almost 10 years, on average, to the lifespan of each individual in the country in that short amount of time is amazing and astounding, a true testament to our rapidly increasing understanding of health, medicine, and the environment. Unfortunately, that’s where the good news ends. Between 2010 and 2014, life expectancy in the US plateaued. And then in 2014, something worse happened: life expectancy began decreasing. The US experienced three years in a row of declining life expectancy. As an article in the Washington Post observes, this is the first time the US has seen such prolonged declines since 1915 to 1918, when Americans experienced both World War I and a flu pandemic. The US is also the only developed country in the world whose average life expectancy stopped increasing after 201...
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