NPR interviewed scientists who study life expectancy and found that the rates in the U.S. are declining, unlike comparable nations.

The scientists point out that a major report was released a decade ago, warning of this trend, but it was generally ignored. Now, the situation has gotten worse, so that even less developed countries have longer life expectancy rates than we do.

NPR reports:

Just before Christmas, federal health officials confirmed life expectancy in America had dropped for a nearly unprecedented second year in a row – down to 76 years. While countries all over the world saw life expectancy rebound during the second year of the pandemic after the arrival of vaccines, the U.S. did not.

Then, last week, more bad news: Maternal mortality in the U.S. reached a high in 2021. Also, a paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association found rising mortality rates among U.S. children and adolescents.

“This is the first time in my career that I’ve ever seen [an increase in pediatric mortality] – it’s always been declining in the United States for as long as I can remember,” says the JAMA paper’s lead author Steven Woolf, director emeritus of the Center on Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University. “Now, it’s increasing at a magnitude that has not occurred at least for half a century.”

Across the lifespan, and across every demographic group, Americans die at younger ages than their counterparts in other wealthy nations.

How could this happen? In a country that prides itself on scientific excellence and innovation, and spends an incredible amount of money on health care, the population keeps dying at younger and younger ages….

“American children are less likely to live to age 5 than children in other high-income countries,” the authors write on the second page. It goes on: “Even Americans with healthy behaviors, for example, those who are not obese or do not smoke, appear to have higher disease rates than their peers in other countries….”

Yes, Americans eat more calories and lack universal access to health care. But there’s also higher child poverty, racial segregation, social isolation, and more. Even the way cities are designed makes access to good food more difficult…

“Two years difference in life expectancy probably comes from the fact that firearms are so available in the United States,” Crimmins says. “There’s the opioid epidemic, which is clearly ours – that was our drug companies and other countries didn’t have that because those drugs were more controlled. Some of the difference comes from the fact that we are more likely to drive more miles. We have more cars,” and ultimately, more fatal crashes.

The scientists noted that New Hampshire’s state slogan is “Live Free or Die,” but nationally we seem to have adopted a mantra of “Live Free and Die.” They estimate the cost of poor health and excessive mortality to the economy at $100 billion.

We all know that the gun industry has succeeded in controlling one major political party through the power of political contributions; Big Pharma owns its share of politicians. Money in politics is literally killing us and our children, but the Citizens United decision in the Supreme Court has blocked regulation of the corrupting power of financial contributions to politicians.

Perhaps we should be grateful that the automobile industry did not control state legislatures, Congress, and the courts when autobiles were first introduced. If autos were like guns, we would have no regulation of speed, no stop signs or traffic lights, no regular inspections of auto safety, no seat belts. Every time you went for a drive, you would prepare for disaster. That’s the current state of gun laws.

What will it take to persuade the public that living a healthy life and surviving to adulthood should not be a matter of luck?