Men’s life expectancy is falling in Mexico, and drug violence is to blame

Life expectancy for Mexican men rose throughout most of the 20th century, thanks to rising standards of living and better health care. But from 2005 to 2010 that trend reversed itself. At fault, a new study says, is the ongoing drug-related violence that has seized the country.

The study, released Tuesday in Health Affairs, found that violence also impacted women, whose life expectancy gains slowed from 2000 to 2010. The data show that murder has overtaken diabetes as a cause of death for men in Mexico, possibly undermining the country’s progress in improving health outcomes and indicating far-reaching societal impacts from the violence.

“It surprised me,” said lead researcher Hiram Beltrán-Sánchez, assistant professor of public health at UCLA. “In Mexico, diabetes mortality is quite high. But the change in life expectancy from diabetes was negligible. It shortened lifespan by months, whereas for homicide, it was [by] years.”

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The researchers analyzed recorded deaths from 2000 to 2010 in all 31 Mexican states and the country’s Federal District. Analysis focused exclusively on deaths of people aged 75 or younger, because, researchers said, the data are more reliable at younger ages, and those deaths were responsible for most of the change in life expectancy between 2000 and 2010. 

They found that every state saw a drop in life expectancy for males from 2005 to 2010, which on average fell from 72.5 years to 72 years. Researchers then looked at causes, singling out homicide, diabetes, heart disease, HIV/AIDS, suicide, and self-inflicted injuries, plus broader categories for other chronic and acute conditions. Among all these categories, they found, murders were most responsible for the changing lifespans of men.

From 2005 to 2010, the homicide rate in Mexico more than doubled, to 22 per 100,000 citizens. Researchers say their data also indicate the spread of drug violence to states where it wasn’t present previously. Bertrán-Sánchez’s, home state, Michoacán, was one of five found to have the biggest increases in homicide deaths.

“I talked to family and friends, and even the small town where I grew up had people who were missing, and we didn’t know if they had been killed,” he said. “It surprised me that we had such a high level of homicide.”

The study also suggests that deaths from diabetes and other diseases may have been reduced by greater access to health care after Mexico implemented health-care reform in 2004.

Beltrán-Sánchez said that he hopes that the Mexican government will take the public-health perspective in dealing with homicides.

Violence is “a disease that is spreading,” he said.

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