US life ex­pectancy falls, as many kinds of death in­crease

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

A decades-long trend of ris­ing life ex­pectancy in the US could be end­ing: It de­clined last year and it is no bet­ter than it was four years ago. In most of the years since World War II, life ex­pectancy in the US has inched up, thanks to med­i­cal ad­vances, pub­lic health cam­paigns and bet­ter nu­tri­tion and ed­u­ca­tion. But last year it slipped, an ex­ceed­ingly rare event in a year that did not in­clude a ma­jor dis­ease out­break. Other one-year de­clines oc­curred in 1993, when the na­tion was in the throes of the AIDS epi­demic, and 1980, the re­sult of an es­pe­cially nasty flu sea­son.

In 2015, rates for 8 of the 10 lead­ing causes of death rose. Even more trou­bling to health ex­perts: the US seems to be set­tling into a trend of no im­prove­ment at all. “With four years, you’re start­ing to see some in­di­ca­tion of some­thing a lit­tle more omi­nous,” said S Jay Ol­shan­sky, a Univer­sity of Illi­nois-Chicago pub­lic health re­searcher.

An Amer­i­can born in 2015 is ex­pected to live 78 years and 91/2 months, on av­er­age, ac­cord­ing to pre­lim­i­nary data re­leased Thurs­day by the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion. An Amer­i­can born in 2014 could ex­pect to live about month longer, and even an Amer­i­can born in 2012 would have been ex­pected to live slightly longer.

In 1950, life ex­pectancy was just over 68 years. The United States ranks be­low dozens of other high­in­come coun­tries in life ex­pectancy, ac­cord­ing to the World Bank. It is high­est in Ja­pan, at nearly 84 years. The CDC re­port is based mainly on 2015 death cer­tifi­cates.

There were more than 2.7 mil­lion deaths, or about 86,000 more than the pre­vi­ous year. The in­crease in raw num­bers partly re­flects the na­tion’s grow­ing and ag­ing pop­u­la­tion. It was led by an un­usual up­turn in the death rate from the na­tion’s lead­ing killer, heart dis­ease.

Trou­bling trends

Death rates also in­creased for chronic lower lung dis­ease, ac­ci­den­tal in­juries, stroke, Alzheimer’s dis­ease, di­a­betes, kid­ney dis­ease and suicide. The only clear drop was in can­cer, the na­tion’s No. 2 killer. Ex­perts aren’t sure what’s be­hind the stall. Some, like Ol­shan­sky, sus­pect obe­sity, an un­der­ly­ing fac­tor in some of the largest causes of death, par­tic­u­larly heart dis­ease. But there’s also the im­pact of ris­ing drug over­doses and sui­cides, he noted. Drug over­dose deaths soared 11 per­cent to more than 52,000 last year, the most ever, driven by in­creases in deaths from heroin, pre­scrip­tion painkillers and other so-called opi­oids.

“There are a lot of things hap­pen­ing at the same time,” he said. Some years the CDC later re­vises its life ex­pectancy es­ti­mate af­ter do­ing ad­di­tional anal­y­sis, in­clud­ing for its 2014 es­ti­mate. Av­er­age life ex­pectancy de­clined for men, fall­ing by more than two months, to 76 years and 3 1/2 months in 2015. It fell by about one month for women, to 81 years and 2 1/2 months, the CDC said. Death rates in­creased for black men, white men, white women, and slightly for His­panic men and women. But they did not change for black women.

The new CDC re­port did not of­fer a geo­graphic break­down of 2015 deaths, or anal­y­sis of death based on ed­u­ca­tion or in­come. But other re­search has shown death rates are ris­ing sharply for poorer peo­ple - par­tic­u­larly white peo­ple - in ru­ral ar­eas but not wealth­ier and more highly ed­u­cated and peo­ple on the coasts. “The trou­bling trends are most pro­nounced for the peo­ple who are the most dis­ad­van­taged,” said Jen­nifer Karas Mon­tez, a Syra­cuse Univer­sity re­searcher who stud­ies adult death pat­terns. “But if we don’t know why life ex­pectancy is de­creas­ing for some groups, we can’t be con­fi­dent that it won’t start de­clin­ing for others,” she said.—AP

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