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A study published August 30, 2017 in Population Health Metrics explores why the U.S. lags behind other developed countries in continuing improvements to public health. Despite increasing by more than 30 years over the last century, the average lifespan in the U.S. ranks near the bottom among 34 member countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The U.S. also lags in years of life lost due to premature mortality for most causes of death, and in particular for injury-related causes.

“Through elimination of injury as a cause of death, average U.S. life expectancy at birth could be increased by approximately 1.5 years, with notable variations by sex, ethnicity, and race,” state the authors. “More conservatively, average life expectancy at birth could be increased by 0.41 years assuming that the national injury death rate could be brought into line with the lowest state-specific rate. Under this more conservative but plausible assumption, an estimated 48,400 injury deaths and $61 billion in medical and work loss costs would be averted annually.”

A sustained commitment to injury prevention, particularly that related to roadway crashes, self harm (suicide) and violence (homicide), could lead to substantial improvements–the U.S. has significantly greater mortality levels in each of these categories as compared to other OECD countries.

It should be noted that the study’s outcomes are based on the hypothetical prevention of injury-producing events, as opposed to the improvement of trauma care–which represents another avenue for further reduction of mortality that may also reduce overall U.S. life expectancy.

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-by Pam Bixby,