What’s really behind the U.S.’s declining life expectancy?

I can’t say I was surprised to read this headline — in fact, I’ve been predicting it for a while. But it’s still distressing to see it in print: “US Life Expectancy Drops for First Time Since 1999.”

That’s right. Despite all our medical advances, all the billions of dollars we spend on healthcare, all the pharmaceuticals peddled for every condition under the sun, life expectancies have begun to backslide.

Based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), 2015 was the first year since 1999 during which life expectancy at birth was shorter than it had been the year before.

Americans born in 2015 could expect to live 78.8 years, compared to 78.9 years in 2014. The decrease was bigger for men, whose life expectancy went from 76.5 years to 76.3 years. For women, the change was smaller: from 81.3 to 81.2.

Just a quick aside for those wondering why women live so much longer than men…My theory, and it’s backed up by what I’ve seen in my own practice, is that women take better care of themselves. Plus, they’re not afraid to go to the doctor and seek help when they’re having problems.

But back to the topic at hand — the decline in life expectancy overall. I think it’s pretty clear that the blame lies on our country’s pathetic relationship with food.

You’d think that with all the medical advances we have seen over the past decades, there would be similar advances in nutrition science. But unfortunately, the population as a whole — and even doctors — are still confused about diet.

While people are starting to die sooner, the causes of death have remained the same. And as you’ll see, most of them are diseases with a strong dietary component:

1. Heart disease (caused by sugar)
2. Cancer (many times caused by sugar)
3. Chronic lower respiratory tract diseases
4. Unintentional injuries
5. Stroke (caused by sugar)
6. Alzheimer’s disease (linked to sugar)
7. Diabetes (Do I even need to say it? Sugar.)
8. Influenza and pneumonia (infections the immune system could likely fend off if it wasn’t suppressed by sugar)
9. Kidney disease (caused by diabetes and hypertension…which are caused by — you guessed it — sugar)
10. Suicide

Together, these 10 causes accounted for almost three-quarters of all deaths in the United States in 2015. And take a look at how many of them are linked to sugar. (Not to mention the fact that we’re still reeling from the disastrous effects of the low-fat era. That whole fiasco left the public so confused that we’re still fighting about whether eggs are unhealthy. Hint: They’re not .)

The bottom line is the standard American diet simply does not promote health and longevity. And it’s causing us to die earlier than we should.

I don’t know what else I need to say to convince people that sugar kills. We are literally shortening our lives — and suffering painful, debilitating diseases — all to satisfy a sweet tooth.

Now I’ve heard some people say that enjoying their nightly ice cream is worth it to them, even if it means they’re going to die a bit sooner. Or others who insist that the extra years they might gain from exercising don’t make up for all the time and effort they’ll spend doing it.

I just can’t see the logic in those arguments. Because a healthier lifestyle doesn’t just set you up for a longer life, it sets you up for a better life. I, for one, certainly don’t want to be infirm in my old age. I want to live and feel the way I do now for as long as I possibly can. And ditching sugar is absolutely one of the best and simplest ways to accomplish that.