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Myth Buster: Do Americans Have the Longest Life Expectancy?

MYTH:  Americans live longer than any other nationality.

FACTS:  It’s true that life expectancy in the United States rose dramatically during the last century—from 51.1 years to 78.2 years, according to the United Nations Population Division.

But that doesn’t even crack the world’s top 35. Japan, with a life expectancy of 82.6 years, is number one, while such diverse countries as Malta (19), Guadeloupe (26), Cyprus (27) and Chile (34) outrank the United States (37).

Blame it on obesity, many experts say. A full third of Americans are now obese, and another third overweight, with the steepest increases in average weight occurring among children and minorities. Some experts say American life expectancy will soon decline.

“It now appears certain,” says public health expert Jay Olshansky of the University of Illinois at Chicago, “that unless we find a way to intervene, today’s younger generation could live a shorter and less healthy life than their parents’ generation for the first time in the modern era.”

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