U.S. Life Expectancy Decline 2016 – Eating Ourselves to Death

life-expectancy-decline-2016-study

In a detailed piece posted by The Washington Post regarding research originally published by the National Center for Health Statistics, it is made evident that the life expectancy in the United States is on the decline for the first time in two decades. It is a fundamentally powerful article because it speaks to every individual in the USA and the innate desire we all have to live – and not just live, but live in a fashion that is healthy, productive, and satisfying.

At the heart of the US’s lowering life expectancy are a number of factors leading to a dramatic increase in fatalities. Some elements are, unfortunately, not entirely avoidable such as a rise in accidental deaths. Certainly, in the case of car accidents, we can all learn how to drive safer and smarter and with more consideration for other people on the road, but at the end of the day there is a certain element that is really out of our control – after all, you can’t control a drunk driver heading right for you going the wrong direction on the highway.

While causes of premature death like this do exist and are accounted for, the staggering part of the figure really comes from preventable diseases and health conditions.

This is a topic I am very familiar with as I have turned my life around and reclaimed my own health from conditions such as these. A few noted were heart disease, stroke, diabetes, drug overdoses, and more. Just this small list of generally preventable and/or manageable conditions can incite expansive discussion regarding each. From a whole food, plant-based perspective, a change in diet from the standard American way of consumption to something more health and environment conscious can have significant impacts. 

Disease is not just physical

Something important to take away from TWP’s research is the reality that life expectancy is not just dropping because of physical illness – but because of the results of mental illness, too.  
Unfortunately, at times, we view mental diseases like anxiety and depression to only be rooted in people who otherwise have physical problems – but this is not always the case. Sometimes, even the healthiest looking among us can be overwhelmed with what are described in the article as “diseases of despair.” A rise in suicide rates in the white middle class resulting from this “despair” is unfortunate, but equally worth examining. 

One thing to keep in mind, though, is how mental conditions are often influenced by our physical selves. That is to say: our diet and lifestyle can impact our mental well-being, too. 

“Actual” Life Expectancy is Not Much Lower, But…

As many news sources begin to hype up this news, the reality according to the statistics is that the change in life expectancy is only by 1/10th of a year. This amounts roughly to 1.5 months trimmed off of someone’s life when compared against previous life expectancy norms. I think most of us would consider this to be a drop in a bucket compared to living a long life well into the 70's and 80's. With this said, a few important considerations start to arise:

  1. What will happen if we continue on this downward trend? Someday, a loss of 1 month would look preferable compared to a loss of years and years for the average person. As is pointed out in the article, the statistics could always reverse next year, but it is also possible that things could get worse. 

  2. What is the quality of life? We all probably have known (or known of) someone that we wish was not kept alive by artificial means. It seems like lying in bed 24/7 would be an agonizing experience, and not one worth living. 

  3. How many people have to have shorter life spans to significantly impact the statistics on life expectancy. Good statisticians can sometimes rule out outliers – but in the case of this research, the expectation is that this is not the result of significant outliers, but rather the whole of the US population sample. While the shift for the average of people is small, for some individuals premature death is a real experience. 

How Our Diet and Lifestyle Impact Our Life Expectancy

The only way I know to consistently improve health is by replacing destructive habits with supportive ones. The most powerful of these necessary changes is the kind of food (not the quantity).
— Dr. McDougall

The challenge with “life expectancy” is that the numbers we see are really based on averages. Even a naturally healthy person could die young – it just unfortunately happens. The flip side is also true, someone could smoke cigarettes for 50 years and have other diseases but still manage to get to 90 years old. We can’t always control all of the factors that dictate how long we will live – but we can control our risk potential.

People who eat poorly and do not exercise naturally have a higher risk for dying young. I don’t mean someone who eats one brownie but otherwise is healthy around the clock, but rather someone who has a real, concrete, sedentary lifestyle and poor diet overall.

In order to see significant changes in life expectancy, every individual needs to begin making conscious decisions to make themselves healthier. I admit, this can seem abstract at times – but we need to consider what the “average” person’s lifestyle is really like. 

Making a Change Away from the Unhealthy “Normal”

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Quick exercise: think about what the typical American diet looks like. Is the first thing that pops into your mind a mouth watering garden salad, or are you more likely to think of a McDonald’s Big Mac and fries?

It’s strange that the American way of life is often built around things that are unhealthy and slowly killing us. It is easy to understand when there was a time we did not know the effects of certain foods on our health – but now research is coming out that puts on powerful display the negative influence many foods we have been taught over the years are healthy and necessary are now being viewed by the scientific community as unhealthy.

I expect that much of the rise in mortality rates and decrease in life expectancy is closely intertwined with diet and lifestyle choices. These are two critical areas of personal health that are so vital to get right, or you end up overcome with significant chronic diseases that are killing at an increasingly alarming rate. Diseases that for many are otherwise completely avoidable.

The good news in all of this is that it is almost never too late to turn things around. As I discuss often on this blog, I experienced a significant lifestyle and diet change in my late 50’s/early 60’s when I decided to adopt a whole food, plant-based lifestyle. Some chronic diseases, pain, and extra weight have all dissipated and I have reclaimed my health as a result. 

“Life Expectancy” is not something to fear, not having a happy life is! 

Farmer Fred with Bailey :)

Farmer Fred with Bailey :)

At the end of the day, I’m not sure it matters so much how long we live, but rather the quality of the life we have.

Plenty of people live in pain and suffering for years and years, but that is hardly a life worth living. Making substantial lifestyle and dietary changes has allowed me to experience more joy out of my life. It has enhanced even simple things I used to like doing like hiking and taking photographs because I am not in this constant state of foggy sickness.

The best time to change to a plant-based diet and make other lifestyle adjustments is before you become critically sick – as a means of preventing disease. But, for those already in the trenches of illness, this diet has the ability to cure some of your problems, too. It is that powerful! 

Want to learn more about the plant-based diet? 

Fortunately, a plant-based diet is not all that complicated of a thing – it really takes us back to the basics. But, it can be important to see some of the positive effects a diet like this can have on the body and mind, without all the unnecessary paid advertisements and photo editing. We have produced a lot of content here on Plant-Smart Living covering a wide array of topics like how a WFPB diet can help with meeting weight loss goals, reduce your risk of cancer, can reduce the need for prescription medication, and more.

I would like to encourage you to search our website to help get more knowledge about this lifestyle – and feel free to ask questions in the comments below or by contacting us directly.  

With a powerful opportunity like this to fundamentally increase your life expectancy through education and action – what do you have to lose?