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September 23, 2009
Despite statistics, US life expectancy high (updated)
As the saying has it, "there are lies, there are damned lies and then there are statistics." Well ok, maybe it is not the statistics that lie but the interpreters of those statistics. And if the interpreters don't actually lie about the statistics oftentimes they just don't understand them or don't place them in context.
For instance, in the ongoing debate about health care in the U.S., critics have claimed the lack of government health insurance is responsible for the relatively low life expectancy of citizens in this country compared with other industrialized countries. Not so according to demographer Dr. Samuel H. Preston as reported by John Tierney in the NY Times. Placing the statistics in context Preston concludes there is
no evidence that America's health care system is to blame for the longevity gap between it and other industrialized countries. In fact, he concludes, the American system in many ways provides superior treatment even when uninsured Americans are included in the analysis.
Then what causes the longevity gap? According to Preston it
One important reason for Americans' lower life span is something the citizens have been told time and time again not to do but many persist. Smoking.
So, if Americans live common sense healthy lives--don't, or stop, smoking, lose weight, exercise more--then
(And no, this post isn't meant to be a scold; just a report on the statistics. In context.)
"But" critics of the U.S. system retort, "80 year olds have been beneficiaries of Medicare for 15 years, a government medical insurance program."
Preston researched that also and discovered that prior to Medicare the longetevity gap shrunk with age even faster than today.
Why? Admitting our system's flaws, Preston and his research colleague concluded that Americans were more likely to practice preventive medicine like cancer screenings and once detected, they were more likely to live 5 years.
So, keeping my non statistical promise, no admonitions to stop smoking, lose weight and all that other healthy stuff; no reassurances that life is just as pleasant, or maybe even more so, after this is accomplished. Your choice. But be reassured that if you live in the U.S. and survive middle age, statistically speaking, in context, you have a long life ahead most probably thanks to the U.S. health care system with all its admitted flaws. Enjoy.
Reader William Allen makes a good point: