Avoidable Injuries Contribute to Lower Life Expectancy in U.S.: Study

People living in the U.S. have a lower life-expectancy than those living in other high-income countries, and new research suggests that may be due to an increased risk in this country of suffering an injury that is generally considered avoidable, such as car accidents, gun violence and drug poisoning. 

In a study published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), researchers from the National Center for Health Statistics indicate that nearly half of the difference in life-expectancy in the U.S. involve avoidable injuries.

Researchers compared data from the U.S. National Vital Statistics System and the World Health Organizations mortality database to determine differences in life-expectancy in the U.S. compared with 12 other high-income countries, including Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

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The three largest causes of injury deaths in the United States involved automobiles, guns and drugs, which can be greatly reduced through preventative measures.

Overall, men and women from the other countries had a 2.2 year higher life-expectancy compared to those living in the United States. The life expectancy for men is 81.5 years in the U.K., 82.6 years in France and only 78.7 in the United States. On average, women in the U.S. live about 81.2 years, compared to 83.4 years for women in other countries.

Death due to injury accounted for 48% of the life expectancy gap among men, according to the researchers, with injuries from guns accounting for 21% of the gap, drug poisonings 14%, and car crashes 13%.

Among women, those three categories accounted for 19% of the life expectancy gap, with 4% from firearm-related injuries, 9% from drug poisonings, and 6% from motor vehicle collisions.

People who die from these three injuries are often younger and still have several decades left to live. Overall, these three categories accounted for six percent of deaths among U.S. men, and three percent of deaths among U.S. women.

The rate of deaths per 100,000 men in the U.S. in 2012 was 865 deaths, compared to 772 for men in other countries that year. Similarly, women in the U.S. in 2012 had a rate of death of 625 per 100,000, compared to 494 deaths for other countries.

Researchers say the findings of the study are concerning, considering all three injury causes of death are modifiable and can be improved using informed and effective policies. Causes of injury death from guns and drug-related or overdose deaths may not be surprising, but car accidents may be. Researchers say driving isn’t more dangerous in the U.S., but more common than in other countries.

For various reasons, policies are not in place in the U.S. that would mitigate the risks of guns, poisoning and many auto accidents, contributing to higher death rates. If Japan, Canada and European countries are able to manage these concerns, researchers ask what is going wrong in the United States that is preventing it from doing the same.

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