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Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies

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Why is the USA slipping behind in Life Expectancy?  Is it Obesity? Health Care? Car Crashes?

Hank Pellissier

Ethical Technology

January 19, 2012

Living in the USA is killing people, quite early. Prodigious wealth and scientific achievement isn’t keeping Americans around very long. Quite the opposite. Longevity rankings tabulated by the United Nations show the North American behemoth wheezing behind in 36th place, with a croak-time of 78.3 years, dying nearly four years earlier than the durable Japanese (82.6). Cubans live as long as Americans; Chileans and Costa Ricans live longer; so do workaholic South Koreans (2,357 person-hours) and hard-drinking Finland, where alcoholism is the #1 cause of death.

Why can’t Americans live longer?  Or, are statistics misleading?  Are people in specific states expiring far earlier or later? Yes. Hawaiians - basking in a lovely clime set at a comfortable room temperature - live 81.48 years; worldwide that would give them 6th place, behind Japan, Hong Kong, the high-altitude Swiss, the resilient Israelis, and the thermal-heated Icelanders.

Mississippians, though, live only 74.1 years, a digit that would tie them with Syria, in 69th place.

Mississippi does earn a gargantuan #1 rating in one category, though. The delta region is packed with pudgy people - a May 2011 NPR report observes that 68.8% of its adults and 44% of its children are either obese or overweight. For six consecutive years Mississippi has been ranked the fattest state; this implies it’s the fattest place in the world, because corpulent America reigns as the Heavyweight Champion of the world, with 30% of its citizenry obese.  Tamale-lard Mexico is a distant #2 with 24.2% gordos; #3 is Beefeater United Kingdom.

Skinniest people? Or, more precisely, the least obese of the thirty-three OECD nations?  Japan. Again. Only 3.2% of the population is obese, sumo wrestlers included. South Korea ties Japan, with the hike-crazy Swiss yodeling in 3rd place with 7.7% obesity. Strong correlation here, huh?  Fat=Death? Not quite that simple…

The two Columbia researchers (see above) claim that the “prime culprit” in the USA’s low longevity ranking is not obesity; its the “deteriorating health care system… marred by ever-increasing costs.” (over $9,000 per person annually) Additional factors to blame, they suggest, are obesity, smoking, homicides, and traffic fatalities.

Huh? Two of the death-dealers surprise me. We all know America is fatter and more murderous than other developed nations, but I didn’t know it was also a leader in car crashes and cigarettes…

A World Health Organization (WHO) report (updated 2007) notes that smoking every cigarette eliminates five minutes off the smoker’s life, due to the 4,000 toxic or carcinogenic chemicals. Smoking kills more than 20% of Americans, this is double the international average…

Car crashes? Fasten your seat belts. The USA slams in with more than 6 million car accidents per year, accounting for 33,808 fatalities in 2009. The American ratio of deadly auto accidents is 12.3 per 100,000 people, this more than quadruples Sweden (2.9) and triples the UK (3.59) and The Netherlands (4.1). 

The United States rates 19th in longevity among OECD nations, but if you remove accidents as a category it leaps up to 1st place! Driving safety is not a USA strength; the chances of being road-killed here are the same as in Jamaica, but far less than the world leader: Eritrea, 48.4 fatal accidents per 100,000.

Any happy news for USA residents?  Yes. A Forbes article (11/23/11) entitled “The Myth of America’s Poor Life Expectancy”, points out that hospitalized USA citizens often have superior odds. For example, the 5-year survival rate for breast cancer in the USA is 83.9%; in #3-ranked Switzerland, it’s merely 76%. Prostate survival rate in the USA is 91.9%; in Japan it’s only a sputtering 50.4%.

Techno-progressives are also, of course, highly unsatisfied with USA medical care, especially the slow pace of permissible innovation. A recent IEET article entitled, “Researchers, Ahoy!  Should Futurist Science Move Offshore?’” (by Nikki Olson) forecasts the building of “floating hospitals” in international waters, where research and development won’t be strangled by government red-tape, regulations, and the tortoise-pace of FDA approval.

A new USA organization impatient with medical progress is The Cure Is Now, a non-profit with the ambitious, techno-progressive goal of “eliminating acquired, congenital, and developmental diseases… (using) a convergence of emerging technologies… The objective is to eradicate disease as a major health problem by managing programs designed to further scientific achievement.”

I email-interviewed AnnMarie Santiago, the founder and Executive Director of The Cure Is Now - our dialogue is below:

Hank Pellissier: What motivated you to start The Cure Is Now?

AnnMarie Santiago: The Cure is Now began several years ago… When close friends and family members of mine passed away, I vowed that I would do something to help others facing the death of loved ones. During these trying times, I would ask myself, ‘why is it that technology develops and evolves faster and faster, yet the medicine and medical treatments my friends and family received was relatively antiquated?’ I began talking to friends about my observations and I noticed that people were inspired by the promise of science and technology and the chance to keep friends and loved ones alive and healthy longer. I enrolled friends who also lost loved ones to disease or accidents to join the board of directors, I invested my own money and recruited lawyers, accountants and many helpful volunteers. We received 501©3 status, the ability to fundraise in nearly every state and now things are really beginning to snowball. We have doctors, researchers and inventors from Harvard University, MIT, Columbia University and other institutions on our five advisory boards.

HP: How will The Cure Is Now remedy problems with USA medical care?

AMS: We would like to help lay the groundwork for “Healthcare 2.0” and the evolution of personalized medicine. The Cure is Now will focus on research on the cutting edge that has gone undetected, is underfunded and has a good chance of leading to direct medical application. By fostering an environment of well-funded, well-managed and well-executed research - projects that develop combinations of never-before-seen medical breakthroughs can become the new standard in medicine. We will also work with people interested in making it easier for scientists to invent medical breakthroughs and we will work with a variety of advisors on how to accelerate laws and policies here in the United States that support medical breakthroughs.

Every conceivable new technology that could in some way advance the edge of medicine is being considered and ways to create synergies between these emerging/advanced technologies are being sought.

HP: What are you goals in the next 1 year, 5 years, 10 years?

AMS: In one year, we will begin funding individual research groups. In two to five years we will construct and staff small, efficient research labs in New York City, Cambridge MA, Silicon Valley as well as international research cells… New York is a cultural and financial hub and will soon be a biotech hub. The Boston/Cambridge area is a cradle of scientific innovation and we have identified key leaders in that area who will be a great resource for us. We believe that advances in computer technology will emerge in or close to Silicon Valley. We are additionally focused on international locations because of the research opportunities available there.

In five to ten years, we will fund, construct and staff a world-class research facility that forges collaboration and synergy between emerging science and advanced technology research groups.

HP: Can you provide me with some innovative ideas about what your organization is intending to do?

AMS: The Cure is Now IS innovation. In fact, our three core values are innovation, synergy and discovery. My team and I have determined that scientific innovation can be broken down into four categories: Curiosity driven research, applied research that leads to direct medical discoveries, synergistic research and not-yet-known types of research. The Cure is Now will fund these four types of innovative research.


To conclude, it seems to me the best way to live lengthily in the USA is to:

1. Maintain a Pedestrian Lifestyle…
2. In Hawaii…
3. Where the Health Care System covers 92% of inhabitants…
4. Utilize cutting-edge cures via The Cure is Now and Buoyant Clinics Offshore…
5. and… Keep Your Weight Down…

Don’t be gluttonous with the poi, coconut, and spam or you’ll end up buried early, like that roasted pig in the pit.

Hank Pellissier serves as IEET Managing Director and is an IEET Affiliate Scholar.


Contact: Executive Director, Dr. James J. Hughes,
IEET, 35 Harbor Point Blvd, #404, Boston, MA 02125-3242 USA
phone: 860-428-1837