The US mortality crisis: CDC reports extraordinary drop in life expectancy

Henrietta Brewer
November 30, 2018

Life expectancy in the USA has fallen once again, following a trend that began in 2015 when the average expected life span of a baby born in the United States took a small but significant hit. That number dropped sharply between 2013, when the Affordable Care Act kicked in, and 2016.

The CDC found suicide became the second leading cause of death for 10- to 34-year-olds in 2016, with rates increasing 33% between 1999 and 2017, according to the report.

"Life expectancy gives us a snapshot of the nation's overall health and these sobering statistics are a wakeup call that we are losing too many Americans, too early and too often, to conditions that are preventable", CDC director Robert Redfield said.

Thursday's reports revealed synthetic opioid-related overdose death rates rose by 45% on average, nationwide.

Drug overdoses set another annual record in 2017, cresting at 70,237 - up from 63,632 the year before, the government said in a companion report. By comparison, only about 17,000 people died of overdoses in 1999, the earliest year for which the CDC offered data Thursday. These are, in order of most to fewest deaths: heart disease, cancer, unintentional injuries, chronic lower respiratory diseases, stroke, Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, influenza and pneumonia, kidney disease, and suicide.

Overall, the statistics show a "downward trend in life expectancy since 2014", a time period over which Americans have lost 0.3 years of life, said Robert Anderson, chief of the mortality statistics branch at the NCHS.

The 2017 decline was due to a drop in life expectancy among men, who saw their estimated life expectancy at birth decline from 76.2 years in 2016 to 76.1 years in 2017. "It doesn't seem like a lot, but in terms of human cost you've got a lot of life that's not being lived".

The US is the only country in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) with a declining life expectancy or rising suicide rate. Back then, the life expectancy was 39 years. Meanwhile, Texas (about 10 drug overdose deaths per 100,000), North Dakota (about 9 per 100,000), South Dakota and Nebraska (both about 8 per 100,000) had the lowest rates in 2017. Those small-seeming numbers also translate to meaningful real-world figures: there were 69,255 additional deaths in 2017 compared to 2016.

The rate of suicides has crept up from 10 per 100,000 people in 1999 to 14 a year ago.

The CDC issues its health statistics report each December. The CDC's analysis noted that suicide rates have risen most percentage-wise in rural areas and among women across all age groups.

-A baby born last year in the expected to live about 78 years and 7 months, on average.

Appleby, who overcame her own battles with mental illness, says she is a little surprised though at the national stat that shows the suicide rate is up 26% among men since 1999 but up 53% among women in that time. "I really do believe that people are increasingly hopeless, and that that leads to drug use, it suicide", he said.

Most notable is the widening gap between urban and rural Americans.

Among males, the rate increased 26 percent between 1999 and 2017, from about 18 suicides per 100,000 to almost 22 per 100,000.

As the United States grapples with an opioid crisis, overdoses claim more and more lives, the CDC report found.

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