Why does the United States have one of the lowest life expectancies among wealthy nations despite spending the most on healthcare? (To be precise: 79 years old, 31st place, $9,400 per capita.)

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Perhaps we in the healthcare industry have been viewing things incorrectly for too long.

A long-lived and healthy lifestyle

Using information from the well-known Nurses’ Health analysis (NHS) and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study (HPFS), researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health conducted a comprehensive analysis on the effect of health behaviors on life expectancy. This indicates that they possessed information on a sizable population over an extended period of time. More than 78,000 women were tracked by the NHS between 1980 and 2014. Over 40,000 males were enrolled in the HPFS, which tracked them from 1986 to 2014. With more than 120,000 individuals, the data spans 34 years for women and 28 years for males.

The data on food, physical activity, body weight, smoking, and alcohol use that had been gathered via routinely distributed, validated questionnaires were examined by the researchers from NHS and HPFS.

Exactly what constitutes a healthy lifestyle?

These five regions were selected because to their significant influence on the probability of dying young, according to earlier research. These healthful behaviors were assessed and classified as follows:

1. A healthy diet that was graded and computed based on the consumption of whole grains, nuts, fruits, vegetables, and omega-3 fatty acids, as well as processed and red meats, sugar-sweetened drinks, trans fat, and salt, as well as other reported intakes of harmful foods.

2. A healthy physical activity level was defined as engaging in moderate-to-intense physical exercise for at least 30 minutes per day.

3. A healthy body weight is one that falls between 18.5 and 24.9 on the body mass index (BMI) scale.

4. Smoking—well, smoking is never in moderation. Here, being “healthy” meant never having smoked.

5. Moderate alcohol consumption, defined as five to fifteen grams for women and five to thirty grams for males per day. Typically, a single drink has around 14 grams of pure alcohol. That’s five ounces of wine, 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits, or 12 ounces of normal beer.

Along with comparative data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Wide-Ranging Online Data for Epidemiologic Research, researchers also examined data on age, ethnicity, and medication usage.

Does leading a healthy lifestyle have an impact?

It turns out that having healthy behaviors has a significant impact. Based on this research, those who satisfied the requirements for all five habits lived noticeably longer lives than those who did not: 14 years longer for women and 12 years longer for males (assuming these behaviors were present at age 50). Individuals without any of these behaviors had a far higher risk of dying young from heart disease or cancer.

Researchers in the study also determined life expectancy based on the frequency of these five health-promoting behaviors. In both men and women, a single healthy behavior (of any kind) increased life expectancy by two years. It should come as no surprise that individuals lived longer when they practiced healthier practices. Their graphics are so amazing in this scenario that I wish I could print them out again for you. (However, if you’re really interested, the graphs are on page 7 of the online version of the paper). Pay attention to Graph B, “Estimated life expectancy at age 50 according to the number of low-risk factors.” )

This is quite significant. Furthermore, it supports a large body of earlier, comparable studies. People 50 and older who were of normal weight, had never smoked, and drank alcohol in moderation lived an average of seven years longer, according to a 2017 research that used data from the Health and Retirement research. A 2012 mega-analysis of 15 multinational research with over 500,000 participants revealed that unhealthy lifestyle variables including smoking, poor food, inactivity, obesity, and excessive alcohol use accounted for more than half of early deaths. The list of corroborating studies is endless.

What then is our (major) issue?

The study’s authors note that rather than focusing on illness prevention, the US has an absurd tendency to spend excessive amounts of money on creating novel medications and other medical treatments. This is a serious issue.

According to experts, public health initiatives and policy reforms at the large-scale population level are the most effective means of assisting individuals in adopting healthy diets and lifestyles. (Similar to laws requiring seat belt use and motorcycle helmets…) The laws pertaining to trans fats and tobacco have seen some change.

Naturally, there’s a lot of opposition to it from the large industry. Big businesses won’t sell as much drink, chips, and fast food if regulations and laws encourage people to lead better lives. Businesses who are adamant about generating money at the expense of others are quite upset about that.