Mexican drug war decreased men’s life expectancy faster than war in Iraq, study finds

A new study by UCLA’s School of Public Health found that drug war-related killings in Mexico have led to a measurable decrease in the average life expectancy of men.

The study, which traced Mexico’s homicide rate from 2000-2010, suggests that by the end of the decade the average lifespan for men had decreased by an average of 6 months in two-thirds of the country. Former President Felipe Calderon officially declared Mexico’s war on drug cartels in 2006.

“We noticed that states like Chihuahua, Sinaloa, Michoacan and Durango were the most affected,” said UCLA researcher and study co-author Dr. Hiram Beltran-Sanchez, who analyzed several decades of Mexican public health records.

The decrease in life expectancy is a reversal after 60 years of improvement.

Beltran-Sanchez says Mexico’s life expectancy increased by four to five years between 1940-2000, but slowed in 2000-2005 from 72 to 72.5 years and remained stagnant. “From a historic perspective, this is a regression,” Beltran-Sanchez told Fusion. “Very few countries have an average life expectancy that remains static.”

Over the 2005-2010 period, researchers found the life expectancy of Mexican men ages 15 to 50 dropped from 33.8 years to 33.5 years.

Beltran-Sanchez says just in the state of Chihuahua the life expectancy for young men ages 20 to 39 dropped by up to three years.

“The mortality rate in Chihuahua was three times higher than that of the U.S. troops who invaded Iraq between 2003 and 2006”

- Dr. Hiram Beltran-Sanchez

The UCLA researcher said it’s hard to directly link all homicides to drug war activities, but it’s impossible to think the drug war wasn’t responsible for the dramatic surge in killings. “Although we couldn’t directly link this phenomena with drug trafficking, we believe there’s a very direct connection.”

“In 2005 you had an average homicide rate of approximately 9.5 deaths for every 100 thousand inhabitants, and in 2010 that homicide rate doubled and went above 22 deaths,” he said, referring to the first years of President Felipe Calderon’s offensive against drug cartels. And that doesn’t include the thousands of missing people and unreported deaths.

The “stagnation” in male life expectancy came at a time when the Mexican government implemented nationwide health-care reform to provide universal coverage. In other words, under normal circumstances life expectancy should have been increasing as health services were improved and expanded. But the study suggests it wasn’t enough to counter the toll taken by drug-war violence.

“The public health improvements achieved in the period 2000-2010 were reversed by the unprecedented rise in homicides after 2005,” the study concludes.

To put things in regional perspective, Mexico’s homicide rate is still lower than that of other Latin American countries such as Honduras, El Salvador, Colombia and Brazil.

You can read the full report here: http://content.healthaffairs.org/content/35/1/88.abstract

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