With the alarming news that US life expectancy rates went down last year, here are the causes.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, Americans could expect to live into their early 40s … and that was about it. Modernization has led to a dramatic increase in how long we live, and life expectancy rates have enjoyed a steady, if not slow, climb. But now for the first time since 1993, life expectancy in the United States has taken a dip, which Lenny Bernstein from The Washington Post calls “a troubling development linked to a panoply of worsening health problems in the United States.” Bernstein reports:
Overall, life expectancy fell by one-tenth of a year, from 78.9 in 2014 to 78.8 in 2015, according to the latest data. The last time U.S. life expectancy at birth declined was in 1993, when it dropped from 75.6 to 75.4, according to World Bank data.
The overall death rate rose 1.2 percent in 2015, its first uptick since 1999. More than 2.7 million people died, about 45 percent of them from heart disease or cancer.
The new data comes from the National Center for Health Statistics, which concludes that death rates rose across the board. (Though one bit of good news, cancer rates dropped.)
“I think we should be very concerned,” says Princeton economist Anne Case. “This is singular. This doesn’t happen.”
Last year Case and another researcher sounded the alarm about a surprising increase in mortality rates for white middle-aged Americans – thanks to a phenomenon poignantly referred to as the “diseases of despair” – overdoses, alcoholism and suicide. The new numbers point to the possibility that a wider group of Americans are becoming prone to major diseases.
David Weir, director of the health and retirement study at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan, says that the new report shows increases over the past five years in “virtually every cause of death. It’s all ages. There’s this just across-the-board [phenomenon] of not doing very well in the United States.”
“This is unusual, and we don’t know what happened,” says lead author of the study, Jiaquan Xu. “So many leading causes of death increased.”
Here are the top causes for 2015 according to the report, ranked high to low; numbers represent deaths per 100,000 of the standard population:
1. Heart disease: 168.5
2. Cancer: 158.5
3. Unintentional injuries: 43.2
4. Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 41.6
5. Stroke: 37.6
6. Alzheimer’s disease: 29.4
7. Diabetes: 21.3
8. Influenza and pneumonia: 15.2
9. Kidney disease: 13.4
10. Suicide: 13.3
As Bernstein notes, other Western nations are not sharing this unfortunate increase in mortality, “suggesting an urgency to determine what is unique about health, health care and socioeconomic conditions in the United States.”