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Why Life Expectancy is Declining in the U.S.

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For the past two years, life expectancy has fallen in the United States. This is now the first time we’ve seen a consecutive drop like this in more than 50 years. According to a report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released earlier this year, the number of deaths per 100,000 people in the United States rose among young adults.

The new average life expectancy for Americans is 78.7 years, putting the country behind several other developed nations. It is also 2.5 years lower than the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development average life expectancy, which is 80.3. This organization is made up of other developed countries, including Canada, Mexico, Japan, France, Germany, and the U.K.

So what is causing this alarming decline in life expectancy in one of the most developed nations in the world? Well, the answer to that question lies in a variety of different causes. A study published in the BMJ journal details how an alarming amount of deaths are being caused by substance abuse and despair. Steven Woolf, an associate professor of emergency medicine at Virginia Commonwealth University, described that the overall emotional well-being of Americans has been a significant cause in the decrease in our country’s life expectancy. Plainly stated, Americans have seen a sharp decline in happiness, which is paralleled with a continuous decline in life expectancy.

Other leading causes of death affecting this figure include: heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory disease, stroke, diabetes, influenza and pneumonia, and kidney disease. The rates increased for unintentional injuries, Alzheimer’s disease and suicide. Heart disease alone is responsible for the majority of deaths in the U.S., closely followed by cancer. This begs the question of what we can do as a society to encourage healthier activities, eating habits, and lifestyles to better protect ourselves. Health experts say the best place to start is eating right, exercise regularly, and don’t smoke.

The opioid epidemic alone has been the cause of 63,000 accidental overdose deaths. The CDC reported last year that the drop in life expectancy can be directly correlated to a 21% increase in overdose deaths, along with a staggering 137% increase in opioid-related deaths between the years of 2000 and 2014. Bob Anderson, chief of the mortality statistics branch at the National Center for Health and Statistics, said that opioid drug overdoses “keep[s] going up and up and appears to accelerating.”

He continued, “In the past, those increases have been more than completely offset by declines in cardiovascular mortality. What’s happened in recent years, since about 2010 or so, is a substantial slowdown in the rate of decline for cardiovascular mortality. It seems to be leveling off to some extent, and as a result, the drug overdose deaths are more prominent in the overall picture of mortality.”

Avid writer and reader with a curious mind. I'm always looking to get the most out of life! Follow me on Twitter @whatsaschoon

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