Historic reversal of life expectancy among women
It seems that our trend toward longer life expectancies has come to an end, and smoking is a big culprit.
For some time now, generations of Americans have enjoyed a longer life span than that of their parents. Increases in male life expectancy continued during the 1990s as medical breakthroughs and prevention treatments reduced deaths from heart attacks and strokes. However, this trend was soon offset in some communities by a rise in AIDS and homicides.
Women experienced a similar trend toward an extended life expectancy as we also benefited from medicine and prevention. However, there was a concurrent increase in female smoking, obesity, and heart disease. Women became smokers in record numbers during recent decades and now we are suffering the consequences.
According to a recent study, life expectancy among some groups of women fell by as much as five years since 1983. Most significantly affected are women in poor, rural areas. Overall, nearly one in five US women saw their life expectancy decline or remain stagnant (read Washington Post article).
About half of today’s deaths are attributed to lifestyle factors such as smoking, obesity, and lack of exercise. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among women in the US. Interestingly, a study in China showed that second-hand smoke kills as many women as active smoking (read about Berkeley University study).
The survival rate for those who receive a diagnosis of lung cancer is exceedingly grim – more than 85 percent will not be alive after five years. And 8 out of 10 people with lung cancer will die within two years. Regardless of whether a smoking-related death was self-inflicted or not, this life expectancy trend among women is a serious cause for concern.
When women die prematurely, we take with us the extra years of love and nurturing that our children and grandchildren could have enjoyed. We take with us the wisdom and leadership that could have benefited generations of younger men and women, boys and girls. We take with us our humor and joy and the world becomes a lesser place because of it.
A life cut short is always tragic. When we smoke, we are not just harming ourselves – we harm all those who love us. And if we smoke around children or non-smokers, we might well be contributing to another shortened life. While quitting smoking is the best thing we can do for ourselves, it could also be the best thing we can do for someone we love.