Why Has U.S. Life Expectancy Fallen Below Other Countries?

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The brief’s key findings are:

  • In recent decades, life expectancy at age 65 in the U.S. has been lagging behind other high-income countries, particularly for women.
  • A major reason is that, historically, the U.S. has had higher rates of smoking and obesity.
  • As a result, the U.S. has made less progress at reducing deaths related to strokes, respiratory diseases, and diabetes.
  • If U.S. smoking and obesity rates had matched those of its peer countries, U.S. life expectancy would have exceeded the average until recently.
  • Going forward, smoking is no longer a major contributor to the life expectancy gap; the real challenge is curbing obesity.