Tuesday, December 4, 2018

U.S. life expectancy drops for third straight year because of suicides and drug overdoses

In June, I reported that life expectancy was down for a second consecutive year in the U.S. and promised "I'll be sure to report on the final numbers for 2017, which should come out at the end of the year."  Those numbers have been reported, which Time Magazine summarized as U.S. Life Expectancy Dropped For The Third Year In A Row: Drugs & Suicide Are Partly To Blame.

U.S. life expectancy dropped in 2017 for the third consecutive year, as deaths by suicide and drug overdose continue to claim more American lives.
That was the headline.  Smithsonian Magazine provided more details.
As Lenny Bernstein notes for The Washington Post, the three-year drop represents the longest sustained decline in expected lifespan since the tumultuous period of 1915 to 1918. Then, the decrease could be at least partially attributed to World War I and the devastating 1918 influenza pandemic. Now, the drivers are drug overdoses, which claimed 70,237 lives in 2017, and suicides, which numbered more than 47,000 over the same period. Both of these figures rose between 2016 and 2017.

“Life expectancy gives us a snapshot of the Nation’s overall health,” CDC Director Robert R. Redfield said in a statement, “and these sobering statistics are a wakeup call that we are losing too many Americans, too early and too often, to conditions that are preventable.”

According to Ars Technica’s Beth Mole, 2015 marked the first recorded drop in U.S. life expectancy since 1993, with Americans shaving an average of 0.1 years off of their lifespans. The same proved true in 2016 and 2017, Cathleen O’Grady writes in a separate Ars Technica piece, making the latest projection 78.6 years, down 0.3 years from 2015’s 78.8. Broken down by gender, men could expect to live an average of 76.1 years, down from 76.2 in 2016, while women could anticipate living until 81.1, the same age projected in 2016.

Although the country’s aging Baby Boomer population factored into the decline, Mike Stobbe of the Associated Press reports that increased deaths amongst younger and middle-aged individuals (particularly those between 24 and 44) had an outsized effect on calculations.

As Kathryn McHugh of Harvard Medical School tells NPR’s Richard Harris, “We're seeing the drop in life expectancy not because we're hitting a cap [for lifespans of] people in their 80s, [but] because people are dying in their 20s [and] 30s.”

The overall number of deaths across the U.S. totaled 2.8 million, or 69,255 more than in 2016, Erin Durkin notes for The Guardian. Of the top 10 leading causes of death—heart disease, cancer, unintentional injuries (drug overdoses constituted slightly less than half of this category in 2017), chronic lower respiratory disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, influenza and pneumonia, kidney disease, and suicide—only cancer witnessed a decrease in mortality rates. Seven, including suicide and unintentional injuries, experienced increases.
I am not surprised by any of these findings, as I covered rising suicide rates in the context of Anthony Bourdain's and Kate Spade's deaths, influenza in the context of 80,000 Americans killed by the flu last year, and drug overdoses in the contexts of a Pew Research Center survey and the News & Documentary Emmy Awards.  I'm also doing my best to reduce the death rates from cancer and diabetes by being a five-year and counting cancer survivor and treating my diabetes.  As for what others can do about drug overdoses and suicides, WXYZ gives some advice in Ask Dr. Nandi: What's causing U.S. life expectancy to drop for the 3rd year in a row?

For the third year in a row, U.S. life expectancy has dropped.  Experts say the data is “troubling."
All good advice.  I hope people take some of it.  Otherwise, I expect another decline in life expectancy to be reported this year.  When I first wrote about the phenomenon, I said prompted Russian analogies, reflecting the loss of social support accompanying the collapse of the USSR.  That is not a good comparison to make, and I don't like making it about the United States.  Remember, I'm a Crazy Eddie and I'd like to offer some hope in solutions, not doom.

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