A new study says white Americans with low educational levels have already lost an average of four years from their life expectancy.

That’s the loss of 5 per cent of the average lifespan for an American who lacks a high school diploma, and it’s happened at astonishing speed – between 1990 and 2008, says the lead investigator for the study, S. Jay Olshansky, a public health professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

It compares to the much-deplored loss of life expectancy in post-Soviet Russia, when the collapse of the state-run system and an epidemic of alcoholism cut seven years from the life of the average Russian.

While less-educated Americans were losing 5 per cent of their life expectancy, humanity as a whole went in the opposite direction, at about the same speed. Average life expectancy across the planet rose by 7 per cent from 1990 to 2010, according to UN data.

“The reasons for the decline remain unclear, but researchers offered possible explanations, including a spike in prescription drug overdoses among young whites, higher rates of smoking among less-educated white women, rising obesity, and a steady increase in the number of the least-educated Americans who lack health insurance,” summarises The New York Times’ report of the study.

via Long and the short of US woes.