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Life expectancy takes another dip

A two-year decline

Karen Miller
Life expectancy takes another dip
Life expectancy decreased between 20015 and 2016 (Photo: Courtesy of Microsoft)

Life expectancy in the U.S. population had a decrease of 0.1 year between 2015 and 2016, according to a data brief by the National Center for Health Statistics. You might say that’s not significant and too minor to even mention. But this is the second year in a row that it has dropped in this country. That’s not a good sign.

Life expectancy, or the number of years from birth one is expected to live, provides a fairly accurate picture of the overall health of a population. While longevity is increasing in other developed countries, such as Japan, Australia and Sweden, in the U.S it is taking a step backwards.

On average, females live five years longer than males, 81.1 versus 76.1 years, respectively. While longevity remained stable for females between 2015 and 2016, it dropped by 0.2 years for males. Life expectancy is lowest for African American males.

One wonders why this country has reversed a once positive trend. Through advances in public health and the development of medicines for life-threatening diseases, life expectancy from 1960 increased by almost 10 years. A look at the top 10 causes of death in 2016 might offer a clue. While the age-adjusted death rates for seven of these diseases decreased, the death rates for three others went in the opposite direction.

Alzheimer’s disease is taking more lives, but with the burgeoning elderly population, that’s to be expected. Deaths from suicide increased 1.5 percent, but it’s unintentional injuries that cause the most concern. The age-adjusted death rate for this category soared almost 10 percent during the two-year time frame. This increase was so great that it usurped the third leading cause of death and pushed respiratory diseases to the fourth slot. This is troubling for a number of reasons.

Drug overdoses are included in the category of unintentional injuries. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), deaths from drug overdoses increased from 52,000 in 2015 to 64,000 the following year, and that’s just an estimate. The final tally is expected to be higher. Equally disturbing is that this epidemic is more common among the younger population. Illicit drug use is highest among people in their late teens and twenties, according to NIDA, and is increasing among people in their fifties and early sixties. This finding correlates to death rates, which grew significantly for those between the ages of 15 and 44, and 55 to 65.

Despite this somber report, there is some encouraging news. Death rates from heart disease and cancer, the two leading causes of death are down, as are rates from chronic lower respiratory diseases, stroke, diabetes, kidney disease and pneumonia and influenza. The elderly are faring better than the young. Death rates decreased significantly for age groups 65 to 74, 75 to 84 and 85 and older. In addition, if you make it to 65, there’s a good chance you will live to see 83. At 65 females may live another 20.6 years, and men another 18.

It is clear that substance use has taken a toll in this country and is jeopardizing the future generation. With improved treatment for drug use and continued research in the prevention and treatment of the leading causes of death, the life expectancy in this country should see a recovery.

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