Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health found that levels of income, insurance, infant mortality, AIDS and violence were not directly related to life expectancy. The most important contributing factors were -- in order of importance -- tobacco, alcohol, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diet and physical inactivity.
"Those seven [factors] are likely to explain a lot of the patterns we see," says lead researcher Dr. Christopher J.L. Murray. "They also give us some hints about the types of public health and medical care interventions that could make a difference in these disparities."
The study found that America could actually be split up into eight separate countries, according to life span, with each country boasting individual races, geography, income and life expectancy. The "country" with the highest life expectancy would be made up of Asians and would have an average life span of 84.9 years, while the country with the lowest life expectancy would be made up of high-risk urban blacks who would have an average life span of 71.1 years.
"There are millions of Americans that have life spans the same as in developing countries," says Murray. "That alone is pretty remarkable, considering we spend $5,000 a year per person on healthcare."
Natural health advocates say Americans with chronic diseases can increase their life expectancy not by spending more on health care, but instead by investing in healthier, organic foods and increased physical exercise.
"The seven factors named here are from a Western medicine point of view," explained Mike Adams, a holistic nutritionist and author. "From a holistic health point of view, the top factors would likely translate into substance addictions, consumption of processed foods rather than natural foods, consumption of animal products rather than plant foods, lack of adequate sunlight, exposure to toxins through food, drugs and the environment, and lack of physical exercise. These factors actually cause the symptoms that Western doctors are observing: The high cholesterol, blood pressure and obesity," Adams said.