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American Life Expectancy Increases For The 1st Time in 4 Years

1 year, 3 months ago

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Posted on Jan 31, 2020, 1 p.m.

According to a report in the CDC’s NCHS Data Brief, for the first time in four years American life expectancy has increased, this increase comes as deaths from opioid overdoses dropped for the first time in 28 years as well as did deaths from 6 of the 10 leading causes of death. 

With the trend of decline in average lifespan casting doubt on the progress made over the past decades leading up to this new data, this may be a glimmer of good news for Americans about their health and longevity.

"The three-year trend in life expectancy for the total population either decreasing or remaining steady has stopped, with the increase in life expectancy in 2018," said lead researcher Kenneth Kochanek, from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).

"The decrease in mortality from unintentional injuries in 2018 is a reverse from the 2014-to-2017 trend," he added. "From 2014 to 2017, the increase in deaths from unintentional injuries contributed the most to the decrease in life expectancy, with decreases in cancer mortality offsetting this change in life expectancy," Kochanek said.

American life expectancy increased from 78.7 to 78.9 years between 2010-2014, but then it dropped from 78.9 to 78.6 years between 2014-2017; this number increased back to 78.7 years in 2018, which is still below the peak in 2014 of 78.9 years.

Within America the ten leading causes of death are suicide, accidents, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, chronic respirataroy diseases, Alzheimer’s disease, kidney disease, and influenza. Decreases in deaths from cancer and unintentional injuries contributed to most of the increase in life expectancy between 2017-2018 with increases in mortality from pneumonia and influenza offsetting the change in life expectancy.

According to Dr. Howard Koh, a professor at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, "After years of plateauing and declining U.S. life expectancy, this one-year uptick is certainly welcome news." However, he notes that more detailed evaluation over time is needed to determine if there truly is a reverse in the trend of decline.

Echoing Koh’s sentiments Dr. Steven Woolf, director emeritus and senior advisor at the Center on Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine, in Richmond says, "It's good news U.S. life expectancy increased for one year, interrupting its fall over the past years, but the overall picture remains bleak.”

A similar increase in lifespan occurred between 2013-2014 before decreasing, which may be why there is skepticism over the recent increase along with life expectancy in other wealthy nations being higher for many years, and their life expectancy rates have continued to increase, according to Woolf. 

This report suggests that among the 10 leading causes of death only those from suicide and flu related pneumonia increased. Over half of this increase in longevity was due to a decrease in deaths from accidents and cancer. 90% of the drug overdose deaths were reported to be unintentional with the rate of death from overdose decreasing 4% from 70,200 in 2017 to 67,400 in 2018. Overdose deaths dropped in 14 states as well as the District of Columbia in 2018 to 20.7 per 100,000 from 21.7 in 2017. However, the rate of overdose from drugs such as tramadol, fentanyl, and fentanyl analogs increase 10% in 2018; and from 2012-2018 the rate of drug overdoses from cocaine more than tripled, and those from methamphetamine increased by more than five times. 

According to Koh, "while the overall decline in drug overdose deaths is notable and must continue, rising mortality from synthetic opioids—as well as from cocaine and methamphetamine—represent the next disturbing wave of the nation's ongoing substance use challenge.”

Woolf adds that while it is good news that the rate of fatal drug overdoses has declined, "But this, too, should be put in perspective," he said. "It's still higher than it was in 2016 and alarmingly higher than it's been in the past two decades."

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