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Surprising, But Expected…

How long should we expect to live – 60, 80, or perhaps 100 years? Medicine, infrastructure, and technology have all come together to allow many people to enjoy impressive increases in life expectancy in the last couple of decades. COVID-19 spun this upward trend to a nosedive, with many countries seeing their first significant decline in life expectancy since 1980. Thankfully, data shows that most countries are now back on track. Well, with one exception: the US.

According to an analysis of data by Peterson-KFF, the average American will live 6.3 years less than citizens in comparable countries. As things stand, Americans live 4.3 years less than their British cousins, 5.6 than their Canadian neighbors, and a whopping 8.6 less than Japanese citizens across the Pacific. This revelation isn’t new however. Ten years ago, the Shorter Lives, Poorer Health panel explored the epidemiological reasons for the US’ lagging life stats, and found that higher child poverty, racial segregation, social isolation, and other factors all played a role.

Oftentimes, we pin health problems solely at the door of genetics or personal choices. This is perhaps more comforting to the majority of us who would prefer to have agency over our health, but studies like these illustrate that societies and systems can be just as deadly as disease. In effect, this news is a diagnosis of a sick system. And if a system is sick, then first it needs a diagnosis. After all, if a glass slide showed that people who displayed “red, white, and blue” morphology had a decade shorter lifespan, wouldn’t we try to treat it?

Unfortunately, there is no pill, diet, or cutting edge technology that can “cure” a complex system. We all know, however, that diagnosis is the first – and most crucial – step. That is why pathology is so powerful; it is about identifying causes, noting the reasons behind something. It isn’t focused on blame, but productive accountability. It is a caring act, to help identify what is causing a sickness. Whether in a person or a system, we can only cure a problem once we identify it.

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About the Author
George Francis Lee

Deputy Editor, The Pathologist

Interested in how disease interacts with our world. Writing stories covering subjects like politics, society, and climate change.

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