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January 26, 2011 7:56 pm

Medical Experts: Smoking Responsible for Shorter American Lifespan

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Smoking and, to a smaller degree, obesity explain why Americans do not live as long as the French or Japanese, U.S. experts reported on Tuesday.

Even though just 20 percent of Americans smoke now, more than 40 percent of U.S. adults smoked in 1960 and the population is still paying the price, the report from the National Research Council found.

“Other factors, such as obesity, diet, exercise, and economic inequality, also have likely played a role in the current gap and divergence between the United States and other countries,” the panel of experts appointed by the council wrote.

Many experts have tried to explain why the United States, which spends more per capita on healthcare than any other country and which has a relatively wealthy and well-nourished population, should rank so poorly against other countries in terms of lifespan.

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Gerontologist Eileen Crimmins of the University of Southern California and colleagues looked at cause-of-death statistics for an explanation.

Smoking — which kills directly and indirectly through secondhand smoke effects — seemed to be a major factor, they found.

“Smoking appears to be responsible for a good deal of the divergence in female life expectancy,” they wrote.

“Fifty years ago, smoking was much more widespread in the United States than in Europe or Japan: a greater proportion of Americans smoked and smoked more intensively than was the case in other countries,” they added.

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