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What’s Wrong with this Picture? Life Expectancy Declines in a Majority of High-Income Nations Worldwide

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We like to read about advances in medical technology and about victories over life-threatening diseases. It makes us feel good to think that medical science has all the answers. But at a time when medical spending is at an all-time high, newly-released data shows that for the first time in decades life expectancy for both men and women in high-income nations has actually declined.  This very recent CNN news story tells the disturbing tale.

Only 4 of 18 Show Improvement

According to CNN, a new study published in the British Medical Journal revealed that, between 2014 and 2015, “life expectancy fell across the majority of high-income countries, signaling a collective and simultaneous decline among affluent nations for the first time in decades.”  The study included 18 high-income countries, including Spain, Sweden, Japan, Australia, the UK and the United States. Fourteen of the countries saw declines in life expectancy that researchers called “notable both for the number of countries and for the magnitude of the declines.”  Only Australia, Japan, Denmark and Norway bucked the trend and showed life expectancy on the rise for both men and women.

According to the CNN article, the rise in the death rate outside the U.S. appeared concentrated in the older population, aged 65 and up. Study authors speculated that this might have been related to a flu season that was unusually severe. “The study also suggested that respiratory disease, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease and other mental and nervous system disorders contributed in part to driving down life expectancy among those 65 and older,” CNN reports.  But if this is the case, the study suggests, it might point to worrisome shortcomings in the health care delivery systems in developed countries. “The fact that modern healthcare systems in the most advanced high-income countries were unable to cope with this unexpected challenge, resulting in the first reductions in longevity for decades, is striking and might signal more profound problems [in the coming years],” wrote one of the study’s authors.

Spending More, Getting Less

But the statistics are of particular concern in the United States. In researching this article, we discovered this chart on Wikipedia, published by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, comparing national health care spending per capita. In 2016, the most recent year in which data are available from the OECD, the U.S. far outstripped our peers, spending nearly $10,000 per citizen on health care, more than twice the comparable figure for Canada, France, the United Kingdom, Australia or Japan. (At about 17 percent of U.S. GDP spent on health care, no other nation is even close.) Yet all that spending is not buying us better health – just the opposite.  CNN writes, “The USA now has the lowest life expectancy levels among high income developed countries, and Americans fare poorly across a broad set of ages, health conditions, and causes of death compared with their counterparts in these countries.” In 2016 the average American man could expect to live about 76 and a half years, while a woman would have lived to about 81 and a half. By contrast, just to pick two countries for comparison, Australian and Japanese men live nearly five years longer, and women get an extra four or five years as well.

What’s causing this poor U.S. performance?  Study authors point out a tragic fact behind these dismaying American statistics: much of the decline in U.S. life expectancy rates is concentrated among younger people, in their 20s and 30s. “The authors associate this with the continuing opioid crisis [in the U.S.],” says CNN, “which resulted in 115 opioid overdose deaths each day in 2016.” Researchers call this “an alarming trend given the country’s already lackluster performance regarding life expectancy among high-income countries.”  But opioid use is by no means the only culprit. Social factors such as poverty, the uneven quality of health care (especially in rural areas), and unequal access to health care all play a part.

Too Much Technology, Too Little Prevention

But none of these explanations hides the fact that here in America we are not getting our money’s worth when it comes to the amount we spend on medical care and the quality we receive. Rajiv Nagaich of AgingOptions expresses the frustration many of us feel. “What is wrong with our healthcare system?” Rajiv asks. “Why are we spending so much and getting such bad results? The problem as I see it is simple: our health care system focuses far too much on expensive technology that’s designed to save your life in a crisis, but the system neglects the kind of preventive care options that will keep you from that crisis in the first place.”

That system, says Rajiv, is driven entirely by economics. “It’s about money,” he says in frustration. “If health care companies can make a profit, they will build a solution. My advice is, as a consumer of health care you have to educate yourself. Fortunately,” he adds, “all the information is there to help you become better informed and make better decisions. Don’t wait for Uncle Sam or the medical establishment to look out for you and those you love! The answer is with you.”

The Same Holds True in Retirement

 As we often remind radio listeners and seminar guests, the same holds true in retirement: the answer to planning and preparation rests with you. But the great news is, you don’t have to go it alone, and it doesn’t have to be overly complicated or costly. If you’ve been putting off retirement planning because you didn’t know where to start or how to proceed, you definitely owe it to yourself to explore the power of a LifePlan from AgingOptions – the only retirement plan we know of that carefully weaves together every critical aspect of your future as you age. With the power of a LifePlan on your side, your financial planning, legal protection, medical coverage, housing options and even the critical aspect of family communication are all working together for your security and protection. You can finally stop worrying about losing your assets, becoming a burden to your loved ones, or being forced into institutional care against your will.

There’s a perfect way to find out more, without cost: join Rajiv Nagaich at an AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminar. Dates and locations are available throughout the region, so we invite you to click here to select and register for the seminar of your choice. We can’t guarantee you a longer life – but we can assure you that you can live out your days more securely and fruitfully if you start planning now. Let us be your guide on the journey. Age on!

(originally reported at

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