Life expectancy in the US has dropped for the second year in a row and death rates from 5 of the 12 leading causes of death have gone up, according to new data.
More Americans are dying from drug overdoses, chronic liver disease, suicide, Alzheimer's, and septicemia (serious blood infections) than they have in the past.
These bleak statistics come from the latest annual health of the nation report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which looks at trends in health statistics, including where, when, and how people are getting sick and dying. It also measures life expectancy, which can be used as an indicator of a country's overall health.
From 2006 to 2016, the life expectancy at birth for the total US population increased overall, from 77.8 years to 78.6 years. However, there was still a decline at the end of that period, which was a reversal of long-standing trends. From 2014 to 2015, life expectancy decreased by 0.2 years, which was the first decline since 1993. The next year it dropped again, another 0.1 years, from 2015 to 2016, according to the report.
Throughout the 20th century, life expectancies climbed dramatically in the US, due to better treatment and prevention of illnesses, including the use of childhood vaccines and medications like antibiotics. For example, the US life expectancy at birth was 49 years in 1900, but had risen to the mid-seventies by the end of the century.
It has been on the rise in most high-income countries for a long time. However, the report also showed more recent drops in life expectancy at birth in the United Kingdom, Germany, and France.
There were 2,744,248 deaths reported in 2016 and, overall, heart diseases still kill the most people in the US, followed by cancers and accidental injuries.
However, these aren't the causes of death driving the reversal of trends, according to the report. In fact, deaths due to heart disease and cancer have been declining. Drug overdoses, suicides, and chronic liver disease are to blame for the drops in life expectancy in recent years, the CDC said.
So-called “deaths of despair” are a growing problem in the US, especially among young people.
In the period between 2006 and 2016, the number of deaths from these causes skyrocketed. The age-adjusted death rate for drug overdoses increased 72%. For suicides it increased 23%.
In 2016, there were 63,632 deaths from drug overdoses in the US, two-thirds of which involved an opioid, according to the CDC. Overdose death rates are higher among men, and disproportionally affect people under the age of 35. In a recent study in Science, researchers predicted that if these trends continue, overdose deaths will double every eight years.
In addition, the death rate for chronic liver disease and cirrhosis increased by 7.9% per year for men and 11.4% per year for women during this period. Chronic liver disease can be caused by infection with hepatitis C or other viruses, alcohol abuse, or nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, which can be linked to obesity.
Deaths from suicide increased for nearly every demographic and in nearly every state in the US, according to another report on suicide trends released this summer.
Women are still expected to live longer than men in the US, which has been a trend since 1900, according to the CDC. In 2016, life expectancy at birth was 76.1 years for males and 81.1 years for females.
In 2016, Hispanic people had the highest life expectancy (81.8 years), followed by 78.5 years for non-Hispanic white people and 74.8 years for non-Hispanic
black people. The gap in life expectancy between the latter two groups narrowed from 5.1 years to 3.7 years between 2006 and 2016, according to the report.
In 2016, personal health expenditures in the US totaled $2.8 trillion, which was up 4.4% from 2015.