A recent story over at the BBC — “Why do Americans die younger than Britons?” — looks at life expectancy figures across Canada, the U.S., the UK, Japan and Australia. And, interestingly, the U.S. is lagging behind. Both men and women die an average of almost three years earlier in the U.S. than they do in Canada. But what accounts for the differences in life expectancy in rich, developed countries?
The key culprits in the United States appear to be high rates of obesity, tobacco use, excessive salt consumption (which contributes to high blood pressure) and a series of other preventable risk factors for early death. Smoking alone, for example, is responsible for one in every five deaths in the United States. Also, the U.S. falls behind when it comes to primary care — the early identification and treatment of health problems — and struggles with the astronomical price of healthcare services. A widening gap between rich and poor — and, subsequently, increasingly inequitable access to healthcare for much of the population — is a major social stressor and also contributes to diminished longevity.
So what are some of the biggest preventable predictors of death, in all of its myriad forms? Here are the biggest risk factors (for death), according to the University of Washington:
- high blood pressure
- high low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol
- high dietary trans fatty acids
- high salt intake
- low dietary omega-3 fatty acids
- high blood glucose
- low intake of fruits and vegetables
- alcohol abuse
- physical inactivity