According to a recent study out of the Center on Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University, life expectancy rates in the United States continue to drop across the board. Although earlier research emphasized rising mortality among non-Hispanic whites in the U.S., the broad trend detailed in the new study cuts across gender, racial and ethnic lines. The report has been published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The researchers used data from the U.S. Mortality Database and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s WONDER database for their study. What they found was surprising. Despite spending more on health care than any other country, the United States has seen increasing mortality and falling life expectancy. In contrast, other wealthy nations have generally experienced continued progress in extending longevity.
Of all age groups, adults 25 to 64 years old, who should be in the prime of their lives, saw the largest increase in mortality rates. The greatest changes in life expectancy were noted in the Rust Belt, which includes the Ohio Valley, Appalachia, and upper New England. The U.S. had poorer health outcomes in nine domains compared to other high-income countries, including adverse birth outcomes, adolescent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, HIV and AIDS, heart disease, chronic lung disease, obesity and diabetes, and disability.
Drug epidemics have also played a significant role in lowering American life expectancy. So have suicide and alcoholic liver disease. Deaths related to drugs, alcohol and suicide are often related to psychological distress, anxiety, and depression and are referred to as “deaths of despair.” Regions that have been hit particularly hard by economic changes saw the greatest increases in mortality rates compared to regions with stronger economies.
The study’s authors made sure to stress that the decrease in U.S. life expectancy cannot be pinned down to a couple of particular issues. There are numerous potential factors that could be contributing to the decline. The most alarming part of the study is where the authors said that if the U.S. continues on the same trajectory of the last two decades, we wouldn’t reach the average life expectancy that other high-income countries achieved in 2016 for more than a century.