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Hourglass on blue and grey background; U.S. life expectancy drops third year in a row

Life Expectancy in U.S. Drops for Third Year in a Row

Despite medical and pharmaceutical technology being more advanced than ever before, the average life expectancy in the United States has dropped for a third consecutive year. The rate hasn’t dropped by much (from 78.9 in 2014 to 78.6 in 2017), but the driving forces indicate this trend will not stop in the near future. 

What is causing the trend?

According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, one reason for this trend is a higher amount of deaths in middle-aged Americans, between 55 and 64. The driving force behind this trend? Opioids. 

Between 1999 and 2017, Americans between 55 and 64 experienced the highest rate of opioid deaths, at an astounding 909 percent increase. That means if one person within this age group died from opioid overdose in 1999, 10 people died of the same reason in 2017. 

However, drugs are not the only driving factor. Other contributing factors include suicide and alcohol-related liver disease. Suicide rates in mid-life adults grew by nearly 56 percent, deaths from obesity-related diseases doubled, and deaths from high blood pressure rose nearly 80 percent. 

Theresa Nguyen, VP of policy and programs at the nonprofit group Mental Health America, says socioeconomic factors are at the root of many mid-life deaths. 

People may fall into alcoholism, drug abuse, or suicidality when “they don’t feel hope for the future,” she says. “The first thing we should do is look at those factors that bring people stability and hope. I think employment is one of the most valuable things you can give people who are at risk of falling into self-medication or suicide.” 

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What does this mean for the future?

The increase in American deaths can affect the economy as well as future generations. 

Steven Woolf, lead author of the study, said: “Right off it means [today’s children] are at risk of losing their parents. It also means they could find the same fate themselves if we don’t address the cause.”

Even more alarming, the study indicates the death rates of Americans aged 25 to 64 have greatly increased as well, jumping 6 percent between 2010 and 2017. 

Life expectancy rates around the world

According to the United Nations 2019 Human Development Index Ranking, life expectancy averages around the world include:

  • Sierra Leone – 54.3
  • Afghanistan – 64.5
  • Kenya – 66.3
  • Myanmar – 66.9
  • Nepal – 70.5
  • Belize – 74.1
  • China 76.7
  • United Kingdom – 81.2
  • Hong Kong – 84.7

If you are struggling with mental health problems or suicidal thoughts, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline phone number is 1-800-273-8255. 

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