Did you catch my Fox News segment on why U.S. women are dying younger than their mothers? This news study released by the Journal of the American Medical Association is pretty disturbing, especially for females. While no one is quite sure why women are dying younger, there are a few logical deductions we can make.
According to this new study, life expectancy among women has been falling over the past few decades in half of U.S. counties. We aren’t seeing this same trend among men. Individuals most affected by this alarming statistic are white, high school dropouts. In the states most affected, women can expect to die as much as 5 years sooner than their mothers. But why?
Lifespan is always multifactorial. Not only does your personal lifestyle affect how long you will live, other larger factors come into play. While this new study doesn’t address the exact reasons women are dying younger than their mothers, multiple factors are at fault. The current economic climate, personal health choices and our broken primary care system certainly play a role in this shocking reduced life expectancy among women.
On an economic level, we have known for a long time that under educated and unemployed individuals have poorer health than those who are employed or have a higher level of education. Unemployment leads to an increase in smoking and alcohol abuse. Undereducated women are less likely to find jobs than men. Only one-third of women without a high school diploma are able to find jobs compared to half of men. Unemployed individuals are twice as likely to have psychological problems than those who work making women more prone to unemployment related health issues. While our most recent recession was initially tougher on men than women, we are seeing that women have been slower to get their jobs back. Without jobs, these women are experiencing reduced access to healthcare, further impacting their health. Economic factors are leading more women to feel the negative health consequences of unemployment.
The most important factor influencing lifespan is personal lifestyle choices. While men and women in the U.S. are unhealthy across the board, women are faring worse in making healthy choices than men. Smoking rates are on the decline in the U.S. but women have a more difficult time quitting than men. According to the CDC, 29 percent of male smokers have succeeded in quitting compared to just 19 percent of women. Women who quit smoking are three time more likely to relapse than men.
Physical activity is a significant predictor of obesity and therefore lifespan. Right now in the United States, women aren’t getting enough activity. One study found that men get on average 30 minutes of physical activity each day compared to just 18 minutes among women. Women aren’t stepping up when it comes to making basic, healthy choices ultimately resulting in this trend toward dying younger.
Finally, our current primary care system isn’t properly set up to help Americans stay healthy. Primary care providers are not reimbursed well, if at all, by insurance companies for health coaching. Discussing topics like diet and exercise with patients takes time but medical providers aren’t paid for these services. While good primary care providers still discuss these issues with patients, they aren’t being paid to do so. They can’t operate successful practices if they spend too much time talking with patients about living healthy lifestyles. Rather, our system rewards taking care of people once it is too late. We are paid to treat patients once they become unhealthy, not for preventing them from doing so in the first place.
There wasn’t time in my quick news clip yesterday to address this study in full. So, I decided to post my thoughts today. It’s important as nurse practitioners we’re aware of the consequences of neglecting to keep our patients healthy on the front end rather than waiting until chronic medical problems develop.
In case you missed it, here’s the clip.