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Bush, Republican Policies Hinder U.S. Longevity Gains

Sad, but true. For a long time, throughout much of the 20th century in fact, the longevity of Americans increased dramatically -- from an average lifespan of 47 back in 1900 we experienced an increase here in the U.S. to a lifespan equaling a stunning 77 years of age in 2000. Republican rule in the United States since the year 2000 has resulted in a flattening of that dramatic growth, however -- and the reasons cited for this decline in the growth of U.S. longevity point to the Bush administration and the GOP party's policies and efforts.

Marshal Loeb at the WSJ's MarketWatch reports:

If the people in some countries tend to live several years longer than the global average (as they do in, say, Japan or Singapore or most European nations) that suggests that their populations are generally healthy. But if they are below the global average, that suggests they drink too much alcohol or have other unhealthy habits (as is the case in, say, Russia).

The U.S. performed spectacularly well in the longevity competition during the 20th Century. Longevity in America famously surged from an average 47 years in 1900 to 77 years in 2000. We can credit many factors, including the virtual elimination of malaria, small pox and many childhood diseases.

Not only are Americans living longer, they are also working for more years than their forebears and they are retiring later. This is partly because they have to continue working in order to support themselves in a slower economy and also, in many cases, because they wish to stay active and alert.

The beginning of the 21st century signaled a change in this pattern:

The problem with this triumphant prolongation of life is that the gains in U.S. longevity have slowed in the last five years or so and this has alarmed scientists and policy makers who study it.

Dr. Robert Butler, 81, the influential and prescient physician who is CEO of the International Longevity Center in New York, believes that at least four forces are at work here:

  1. The shockingly high infant mortality rate in the U.S. Mostly because so many babies are born in urban slums and country hollows, where prenatal and infant care is often primitive, America has the second steepest newborn mortality rate among developed nations. In 2005, the latest year for which statistics are available, about seven out of every 1,000 babies in the U.S. died before their first birthdays. Though there has been steady improvement for many years, the U.S. is 29th in the world, behind even Cuba.
  2. The multibillion dollar political power of the industries that contribute to the steep rate of obesity among U.S. children and adults, such as fast foods and sugared drinks. Butler urges that the U.S. government create public-private initiatives to promote healthier diets and physical fitness programs among the public at large.
  3. The estimated 46 million Americans (15.8 percent of the population) who do not have health insurance and thus lack the kind of medical care that would expand and enhance longevity.
  4. The slowdown in medical research in the U.S. Especially absent is the kind of what-makes-the-sky-blue basic research usually conducted by younger scientists and technicians, who tend to be the most innovative, daring, productive -- and successful when it comes to life-expanding discoveries.

This is confirmation of what many of us have been saying for years -- the policies and politics of the Republican party are working against us Americans in favor of the wealthy and the corporations.

The slowdown in medical research is a significant concern, and the hands of the Republicans are all over this...

The main support for basic medical research in the U.S. is not universities or drug manufacturers but the government, notably the National Institutes of Health. The NIH's budget has been flattened since 2003 -- hovering around $29 billion -- with the result that the rate of discoveries has slowed. Among them, presumably, are the kinds of discoveries that would add to longevity.

We can -- and are -- turning the corner on this problem, and the recent election of a Democratic president will put the nation back on track for this critical quality-of-life issue, and improve the lives of Americans for generations to come.

The encouraging news is that all these challenges can be addressed -- provided the nation has the will to do so. Indeed, the new administration of President-elect Barack Obama and Congress in Washington are already committed to make health-care reform one of their immediate and massive issues.

If they add to that the commitment to battle infant mortality, obesity and the flattening of medical research, they will create a new and needed strategy for making American longevity even more vital.

It may be too late to dramatically effect the likes of Joe the Unlicensed Plumber, whose concern for his own far flung fantasies about owning his own business are a higher priority than the government funding of medical research and reducing the mortality rate of newborns in urban areas, but for the rest of us -- those who care about this nation and its people -- electing Obama as President signals a welcomed sea change, and the beginning of a new era where Americans come first and the corporations and the filthy rich are no longer the nation's priority. Every American will benefit.

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Comments (6)


For your next piece, Lee, perhaps you should explain how each of those four areas is a direct result of policies supported and enacted solely by Republicans. Name the policies, the years they were enacted, and the elected officials responsible for them.

Lee Ward:

The decline happened under the Bush administration, overturning a stunning century-long run of growth in longevity.

Bush's first act was to cut back on taxes for the rich, and it's been a downhill slide ever since.

If you aren't incorporated or filthy rich, you just don't count for squat in the view of the Republicans.


whoa....let me get this straight, Lee. Because Bush rolled back taxes, people's longevity decreased? I really really want to hear what path of logic you took to come to that conclusion.

Let's not even get into the fact that taxes were rolled back across the board, and the that people who paid the least in taxes were the ones that were most impacted by the lowering.

Lee Ward:

Bush's priorities are illustrated by his reduction of taxes for the rich. Doing nothing about problems like obesity and infant mortality counts also - inaction speaks as loudly as action.

The flattening investment in medical research which began back in 2003 is a great example- who's fault was that, ke-Future? Are you going to blame Jimmy Carter for that one?

The reduced longevity results speak for themselves - and it all happened under Bush's watch.

After a century of improvement the priorities of the rich Republicans and corporations were placed above the rest of us - and these are the results. See 1-4 above as the causes.


umm lee, i still don't see the line you're trying to draw from lower taxes to reduced longevity.

and no, i'm not blaming Carter for the flattening of medical research. i blame carter for other things. but the question arises: which is more efficient, the government taking our money in the form of taxes and then deciding what to research and what not to, or to allow the market to make that determination? personally, i think there needs to be a mix, and that we had been spending too much money on the wrong things. you have to remember the government is not, and can not be, all things.

Number 1 above is not a cause, it is an outcome. Can you explain to me the details of the infant mortality rate? where, exactly, is it higher and lower? what are the economic conditions of those places? what are the medical facilities available?

i'm unsure how the "multibillion dollar political power of the industries that contribute to the steep rate of obesity among U.S. children and adults, such as fast foods and sugared drinks" is the fault of Bush or republicans. i'm willing to bet that if you looked at the political donations of said companies over the past 8 years, you'd see a direct correlation to the polical party in power

and since when has it been the government's job to do anything about obesity? Are you suggesting the government should be able to tell me what I can and can't eat?

lack of medical insurance. this is a topic that deserves a discussion all on its own. suffice to say that I believe that you are in favor of universal, single-payer government health insurance, while i believe that would make things worse.

insurance is one of those issues that i think comes down to what one believes is the roll of government and does not speak to the so-called priorities of the rich.

as to the 4th point. there isn't any meat there for me to really comment on. there are no statistics referenced. there are no arguements about how Bush has reduced funding. there just isn't anything there.

what it really looks like to me is that you hate Bush so much that you're ready to blame him for everything that you see is wrong, without really having any evidence to cite.


Strange, Government figures seem to disagree.
ATLANTA -- For the first time, life expectancy in the United States has surpassed 78 years, the government reported Wednesday.(June 2008)

The increase is mainly because of falling mortality rates in almost all of the leading causes of death, federal health officials said. The average life expectancy for babies born in 2006 was about four months greater than for those born in 2005.


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Editors: Lee Ward, Larkin, Paul S Hooson, and Steve Crickmore

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