Okay, we know it is the holiday season — a time for good cheer and all that.
But the results of a report issued last week by the Centers for Disease Control reveal a disturbing and dangerous pattern in the United States: The life expectancy of the average American has declined in the past few years, reversing the general trend of the past 130 years of an increase in our collective longevity.
Although the decline in life expectancy has been most acute in poorer parts of the country, it cuts across all socio-economic groups.
There are many specific causes that the researchers point to as contributing to the downward trend, such as the opioid crisis, which tragically has cut short the lives of tens of thousands of our fellow Americans in the past decade.
There also has been an increase in the use — and abuse — of alcoholic beverages, which have been labeled a Class 1 carcinogen by the World Health Organization.
Our poor eating habits also play a large role in shortening our lives.
As a recent article in The New York Times noted, “Obesity is a significant part of the story. The average woman in America today weighs as much as the average man half a century ago, and men now weigh about 30 pounds more. Most people in the United States are overweight — an estimated 71.6% of the population ages 20 and older, according to the CDC. That figure includes the 39.8% who are obese, defined as having a body mass index of 30 or higher in adults (18.5 to 25 is the normal range). Obesity is also rising in children; nearly 19% of the population ages 2 to 19 is obese.”
The ads for fast-food restaurants, primarily shown during college football games, that show those close-up photos of tantalizing double-bacon cheeseburgers topped with onion rings, are an open invitation to heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.
Although the researchers note these cause-specific reasons for many early deaths in the U.S., the statistics suggest that there is something more going on that is not readily-apparent.
Depression and loneliness have risen at alarming rates. It is said that loneliness is as bad for our physical health as smoking two packs of cigarettes per day.
The national suicide rate — the ultimate expression of depression and despair — has risen alarmingly by 30 percent in the past decade. Even if we do not commit that ultimate act of ending our lives quickly, our lifestyles are contributing to our shorter national life span.
So here’s our holiday message:
Don’t drink — and certainly don’t do drugs — and watch what you eat.
But most important, get together with your friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers. Isolation is bad for our health, and just as we have to make an effort to exercise and eat right, we also have to make an effort to get out of our homes and socialize.
It truly is a matter of life — or death.