Life expectancy at birth in the United States declined for the second year in a row in 2021 and is now 76.1 years. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s The Well recently sat down with Add Health Director Dr. Robert A. Hummer to get the inside story on the causes of the decline. Dr. Hummer acknowledges the impact Covid-19 has had on the population. At the same time, however, other reasons for the decline began prior to the pandemic and are also very important. Combining the recent pandemic with mortality increases due to suicide, the opioid and obesity epidemics, and more highlights how unhealthy U.S. society is as a whole. Also critically important, these declines in life expectancy are not equal across demographic groups; the declines have been particularly striking among the Alaska Native and American Indian population, the Black and Hispanic populations, and among those who have a high school or lower education. Dr. Hummer recognizes the importance of the rapid development of technical solutions to health problems in the United States, such as medications, vaccines, and surgical procedures. However, where the U.S. falls short are with social and economic solutions to our health problems. Dr. Hummer states that, as a society, we need to reduce racial, ethnic, and education/income inequalities, curb racism, increase minimum wage, and provide greater access to childcare to help increase our life expectancy and reduce disparities. If we work seriously on these social and economic solutions, Dr. Hummer believes that pandemics and new health problems won’t be as impactful in the future.
September 28, 2022