Mexico’s staggering homicide rate has taken a toll on the mortality rate for men — and it could be even worse than the statistics indicate, a new study from the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health suggests.
Improvements in living standards and in the availability of health care helped boost life expectancy throughout Latin America during the second half of the twentieth century. But that trend slowed in the early 2000s and began reversing after 2005 due to the rising homicide rate in Central America and Mexico. In Mexico, that rate more than doubled from 9.5 per 100,000 deaths in 2005 to 22 per 100,000 by 2010.
As a result, average life expectancy among Mexican men ages 15 through 50 fell from 33.8 years to 33.5 years between 2005 through 2010. Increases in life expectancy among Mexican women slowed during the same period for the same reason: The average life expectancy held steady at 34.5 years in both 2005 and 2010). Increases in deaths due to diabetes also played a part, albeit a smaller one.
“Our results indicate that homicides can have a large impact on the average years of life of a population,” said Dr. Hiram Beltrán-Sánchez, a lead investigator on the study and assistant professor of community health sciences at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. “Violence in Mexico has spread throughout the entire country, so our findings suggest that homicides need to be addressed from a public health perspective to improve peoples’ lives.”
The study is published in the January issue of the peer-reviewed journal Health Affairs.
These data may actually underestimate the nation’s homicide rate, according to Dr. Beltrán-Sánchez, who is also a member of UCLA’s California Center for Population Research.
“The impact of homicides on the average years of life in Mexico is probably worse than we report, because other studies indicate a large number of missing individuals and many deaths that were never recorded,” he said.
The researchers used data from the Mexican National Statistical Office, which includes cause of death by age, gender and place of death, and from the Mexican Demographic Society to examine life expectancy changes over two time periods: 2000 to 2005 and 2005 to 2010.
The study traces the rise in Mexico’s homicide rate to 2006, when then-President Felipe Calderon launched a large-scale government crackdown against the country’s drug cartels. But homicide mortality increased even in states with little or no drug cartel activity, as well as in those with historically low murder rates. For example, most states in Mexico saw an increase in male life expectancy in the first part of the decade, from 72 years in 2000 to 72.5 years in 2005. By 2010, however, the average life span for men had fallen by an average of six months in two-thirds of the states in Mexico.