Rising murder rates in Mexico are causing a dramatic, measurable decline in national life expectancy, according to a new study.
The study, released on Tuesday by the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, suggests Mexican cartel violence is undoing more than a half century of progress in living standards and medical care. "Life expectancy in Mexico had been growing by an average of five years per decade from 1940 up to 2000," Hiram Beltrán-Sánchez, leader of the study and assistant professor of community health sciences at UCLA told Vocativ. "It was thus an alarming discovery to see a reversal in life expectancy among men in most of the states in the country between 2000 and 2010."
Beltrán-Sánchez says everything changed around 2006—the year Mexico's then-President Felipe Calderon tried to put an end to the illegal drug trafficking industry by waging war on major drug cartels. Homicide rates in Mexico more than doubled from 2005 to 2010, and life expectancy in men decreased nationally by 0.6 year throughout the first decade of the the century. Women's life expectancy also slowed, but not nearly as dramatically since men are more likely to be involved in cartel violence.
Homicides have likely taken an even greater toll on life expectancy than displayed in this paper as the statistics did not include missing persons. This blow to mortality trends took place despite the positive effects of the 2004 overhaul of the Mexican healthcare system, Seguro Popular de Salud, which aimed to provide universal coverage for uninsured citizens.
"The most alarming discovery is the large impact of homicides on the overall life expectancy in Mexico," Beltrán-Sánchez said. "Homicides tend to occur almost in every country, particularly among young people, but it is quite unusual to see such an impact on average years of life. For example, males in about two-thirds of the states ended up with lower life expectancy in 2010 than they had had ten years earlier."
The researchers suggest that widespread drug war-related violence could be inspiring violence elsewhere. The list of states with lower life expectancy and higher murder rates includes areas with little or no cartel presence—like Nayarit, Guerrero and Morelos.
Unsurprisingly, the largest decrease in mortality rates have taken place in the northern region of Mexico, the main stage of the drug war. Chihuahua, Sinaloa and Durango—states with heavy cartel presence—saw the most striking shift, with an astonishing decrease of two to three years in male life expectancy. Males age 20 to 39 in Chihuahua, which is bordered by Texas and New Mexico, had a mortality rate about three times higher than that of U.S. troops serving during the first three years of the Iraq War.
According to Beltrán-Sánchez, he and the other researchers are using the study to advocate for reform and bring attention to the failures of the drug war. Next, they plan on broadening their scope and focusing on the rest of Latin America.
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