Why is Life Expectancy in the US Declining?

I saw this in Peter Attia’s weekly newsletter and wanted to share his tl;dr of the 21-page study which I think is very important.

tl;dr of his tl;dr: In today’s world, in the US at least, the deterioration of emotional health can often be more deleterious than the decline of physical health when it comes to longevity*

According to a new study in JAMA, life expectancy (LE) at birth stopped increasing since 2010 and actually decreased in the US for three consecutive years. To put this in perspective, the last time we saw three consecutive years of declining LE was 100 years ago, coinciding with the flu epidemic of 1918.

While I certainly can’t do justice to the analysis provided in the 21-page review in a short email, I do believe it is difficult to ignore the relationship between mental and emotional health and declining quantity (and quality) of life. The review is somewhat surprising because many people think if we can just focus on reducing mortality from cancer, cardiovascular disease, and dementia, we’ll increase LE. There was certainly a day when I only focused on those causes of mortality.

This recent study is a sober reminder that morbidity and mortality take many forms, and supports a point that we must be willing to accept: in today’s world, in the US at least, the deterioration of emotional health can often be more deleterious than the decline of physical health when it comes to longevity.

Petter Attia

*When most people think or hear of the word “longevity” they think of lifespan = number of years alive.

But “longevity” is actually composed of:

  • lifespan (quantity of life)
  • healthspan (quality of life)

The two are not mutually exclusive (ie you can have both) and when it comes to longevity, it is important to focus on things we can do to that will improve both components (sleep, diet, strength training, aerobic & anaerobic cardio, mobility/stability, and mental & emotional health).

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