U.S. life expectancy declines for second straight year

By Nisa Islam Muhammad -Staff Writer- | Last updated: Jan 10, 2018 - 12:53:53 PM

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According to the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) annual report on mortality, released in December, life expectancy in America fell in 2016, for the second year in a row. 

Graphic: MGN Online
‘They now linked the rise in deaths to a “cumulative disadvantage over life, in the labor market, in marriage and child outcomes, and in health” triggered by fewer job opportunities for those without college degrees.’

A baby born in 2016 could expect to live an average of 78.6 years, down from 78.9 in 2014. That doesn’t seem like a lot of time, but it is a significant difference.  For males, life expectancy changed from an average of 76.3 years in 2015 to 76.1 in 2016—a decrease of 0.2 years. For females, life expectancy remained the same at 81.1 years.

CDC statistics report that the last time life expectancy was lower than in the preceding year was in 1993. The last time it fell for two consecutive years was in 1962-63.

A main reason Americans are dying younger is the opioid crisis which is getting worse not better, noted the report. In 2016, drug overdoses claimed more than 63,000 lives. 

“We have data for almost half of 2017 at this point. It’s still quite provisional, but it suggests that we’re in for another increase” in drug-related deaths, explained Bob Anderson, chief of the mortality statistics branch at the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the CDC.

“If we’re not careful, we could end up with declining life expectancy for three years in a row, which we haven’t seen since the Spanish flu, 100 years ago.”

The top 10 leading causes of death remained the same and account for 74.1 percent of all deaths in the United States. According to the report, heart disease, cancer, unintentional injuries, chronic lower respiratory disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, influenza and pneumonia, kidney disease and suicide are the top causes.

The major increases in deaths were found in unintentional injuries, Alzheimer’s disease and suicide.  The unintentional injuries category, includes the more than 63,000 drug overdoses and that number continued to climb in 2017.

The rise in deaths in the unintentional injuries categories is akin to a silent epidemic of drug abuse and suicides that are killing White Americans at alarming rates.  Despite medical advances and decreasing overall mortality rates in other categories for the past 17 years, middle-aged White men and women are dying at unseen rates.

“This increase for whites was largely accounted for by increasing death rates from drug and alcohol poisonings, suicide, and chronic liver diseases and cirrhosis,” explained the report, “Rising Morbidity and Mortality in Midlife Among White non-Hispanic Americans in the 21st century.”

“Self-reported declines in health, mental health, and ability to conduct activities of daily living, and increases in chronic pain and inability to work, as well as clinically measured deteriorations in liver function, all point to growing distress in this population,” the reported noted.

That report was published in 2015, a year before the 2016 statistics.  The authors, Princeton Professors Anne Case and Angus Deaton, updated their research in 2017 to show what they called “deaths of despair.” 

They now linked the rise in deaths to a “cumulative disadvantage over life, in the labor market, in marriage and child outcomes, and in health” triggered by fewer job opportunities for those without college degrees.

That’s also the life of many Blacks and Latinos but the research doesn’t show an increase in their deaths.  That’s the puzzle researchers are trying to figure out.  Life is better for Whites than for so many others in America, yet they are dying more than any other group from despair.

The researchers looked at data from more than 1,000 regions around the country and found the rate of deaths for middle age Whites rose in nearly every part of the country. Regardless of whether it was a rural or urban part of the U.S., and the trend seemed to hit men and women similarly.

Whites are using drugs, drinking alcohol and committing suicide more than ever.  “Ultimately, we see our story as about the collapse of the white, high school educated, working class after its heyday in the early 1970s, and the pathologies that accompany that decline,” the researchers conclude.

“Many of these people have just given up on life,” explained Khalillah Ali, who as a nurse practitioner makes house calls to this demographic.  “What’s normal today is just shocking to them.  Turn on the TV and what you see will amaze you and its considered normal.  The food people eat is bad, so not only is their body malnourished but their brain is malnourished as well,” said Ms. Ali.

“They don’t have the mental capacity to endure what people used to be able to withstand and endure.  They are depressed.  There is an epidemic of depression and people are just looking to get high to escape.  Their life is a wreck, they don’t want to be in the real world, so they watch reality shows to escape.”

While the opioid crisis is a major focus of the CDC report, another big takeaway is that heart disease and cancer are still the top killers of both men and women in the United States. That’s the bad news.  The good news is that by eating better, exercising and not smoking those risks can be drastically reduced.