U.S. Life Expectancy Has Declined for Three Consecutive Years Due to Drug Overdoses and Suicides

By  //  November 28, 2019

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Americans are dying younger — living shorter lives than previous generations

Americans are dying younger — living shorter lives than previous generations and dying earlier than their counterparts around the world. For decades life expectancy had increased in the United States, and many clinicians and demographic experts assumed it would always be that way.

Americans are dying younger — living shorter lives than previous generations and dying earlier than their counterparts around the world.

For decades life expectancy had increased in the United States, and many clinicians and demographic experts assumed it would always be that way.

However, an exhaustive, detailed long-term analysis by Steven H. Woolf, MD, MPH and Heidi Schoomaker, MAEd published in the latest issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) strengthens reports from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) documenting recent alarming declines in U.S. life expectancy.

Combined, the studies confirm that U.S. life expectancy, which declined after 2014 for three successive years, has not kept pace with that of other wealthy countries despite the U.S. having the highest per capita health care spending in the world.

Woolf and Schoomaker examined vital statistics and reviewed the history of changes in U.S. life expectancy and increasing mortality rates in order to identify potential contributing factors, draw insights from current literature and analyze state-level trends.

Using life expectancy data for 1959-2016, cause-specific mortality rates for 1999-2017, and published research from January 1990 through August 2019 that examined relevant mortality trends and potential contributory factors the authors found that between 1959 and 2016 U.S. life expectancy increased from 69.9 years to 78.9 years but declined for three consecutive years after 2014.

A major contributor to the decrease in life expectancy in this country since 2014 has been an increase in mortality from specific causes such as drug overdoses, suicides and organ system diseases among young and middle-aged adults.

The recent decrease in U.S. life expectancy culminated a period of increasing cause-specific mortality among adults aged 25 to 64 years that began in the 1990s, ultimately producing an increase in all-cause mortality that began in 2010. The increase in midlife mortality during 2010-2017 was associated with an estimated 33, 307 excess U.S. deaths.

The authors concluded that a major contributor to the decrease in life expectancy in this country since 2014 has been an increase in mortality from specific causes such as drug overdoses, suicides and organ system diseases among young and middle-aged adults of all racial groups, with an onset as early as the 1990s and with the largest relative increases occurring in the Ohio Valley and New England.

The ominous implications of these findings for our public health and economy are substantial and should spark our legislators and healthcare authorities to make it a high priority to confront and aggressively address the underlying causes of the fall of America’s life expectancy.

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