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Smoking, Obesity Slowing U.S. Life Expectancy Gains: Report
Date:1/25/2011

By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, Jan. 25 (HealthDay News) -- Longevity isn't increasing as fast in the United States as it is in other developed countries, says a new report that points a finger at high rates of smoking and obesity.

For 25 years, U.S. life expectancy at age 50 has increased, but more slowly than in most of the other 21 countries studied, including Japan and Australia, notes the report from the National Research Council, an arm of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.

Since the United States spends more on health care than any other country, this slowed pace is striking, said report co-author Samuel H. Preston, a professor of demography at the University of Pennsylvania. The results are "surprising in terms of our self-concept," he added.

"We determined the most likely source of our shortfall is cigarette smoking, particularly the heavy amount of smoking done by American women," he said.

"Obesity also appears to be important, but we are less certain of its role," he added. "We are the heaviest country in the Western world."

For U.S. women, life expectancy at age 50 is 33.1 years, while it's 35.5 on average for women in Japan, Australia, Sweden and Switzerland, Preston said. "And we are a couple of years behind France, Italy and Spain. Men are not as far behind, maybe 1 to 1.5 years behind the leaders," he added.

Fifty years ago more Americans smoked than Europeans and Japanese, and this difference still affects life expectancy today. A similar effect from smoking is seen in shortened lifespans in Denmark and the Netherlands, according to the report.

The effects of smoking on mortality rates take up to 30 years to be seen, so life expectancy for U.S. men will probably improve in coming decades because fewer men have been smoking over the last 20 years, the report says.

Among women, whose smoking habits peaked later than men's, lifespan incre
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