Americans Are Living….Shorter

811434286What! Unfortunately, this is sobering and not a cheery holiday Struming.

Alas, it is true. For the third year in a row U.S. life expectancy has declined. One year is an anomaly, but three points make a plane as I learned years ago in geometry. We’ve not experienced a 3-year decline in life expectancy for more than 100 years.

Sure, we can all say it’s just a few tenths of a point, and average temperatures are just increasing marginally too. Not really much of a change, you say. You would be foolish if you felt that way.

What’s the actual data?

According to the Center for Disease Control data from 2107 showed a life expectancy of 78.6 years in 2017, down from the high of 78.8 in 2015. For some historical perspective, life expectancy in the U. S. had been for the most part increasing. In fact U.S. life expectancy was just under 70 years as late as 50 years ago in 1968, so significant progress has been made.

(Note: The data is life expectancy at birth. Life expectancy increases as one ages. For example, the life expectancy for a 65 year old is 84)

So why are we slipping lately?

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

“Life expectancy gives us a snapshot of the Nation’s overall health,” Center for Disease Control (CDC) Director Robert R. Redfield said “and these sobering statistics are a wake-up call that we are losing too many Americans, too early and too often, to conditions that are preventable.”

We are making progress with declines in heart disease and cancer related deaths which are largely related to older populations, but the reason for the overall decline is related to younger Americans. The key causes of death to younger Americans are suicide and drug overdose. And the trends are not good:

1. Suicide—The suicide rate is particularly pronounced in rural American, where the rate is 20 per 100,000 population vs. 11 per 100,000 in urban American. The greater penetration of guns in the home in rural vs. Urban America (60% vs. less than 50%) unfortunately provides an easier means of suicide.

2. Drugs—The opioid problem has continued to increase and a pronounced spike in synthetic opioids with a 45% spike in deaths from synthetic opioids in 2017

othernations-fig14On an international basis, despite a far higher % spending on healthcare, life expectancy in the U.S. lags behind other developed countries in the world as shown in the 2015 chart shown here, and this was before the recent decline in the U.S. data.

There is no simple solution to the issues but there are surely directional increases that can be made on a variety of fronts as follows:

1. Funding of anti-opioid initiatives on local, state and national basis.

2. Tightening gun ownership

3. Bringing health costs increases in control and providing health coverage for all Americans

4. As part of #3, providing better controls on drug costs

5. Continued education on healthy lifestyle/food consumption

6. Greater funding of mental health initiatives.

We should be alarmed at a declining mortality rate, but unfortunately the news about the small decline fades quickly, and then doesn’t get the focus it deserves. Until we truly address the issues we won’t make any overall progress on increasing life expectancy and, worse yet, may see some additional erosion.

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