Life expectancy in the US continues to fall

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Life expectancy in the US continues to fall

Suicides and drug overdoses pushed up USA deaths a year ago, and drove a continuing decline in how long Americans are expected to live.

Life expectancy declined in 2017, falling to 78.6 years, according to the new report from the Centers for Disease Control released on Thursday.

The estimate of how long a person born in 2017 can expect to live in the United States is 78.6 years, a decrease of 0.1 year from 2016, the government statisticians say.

Meanwhile, other common killers declined or continued their leveling-off tendency, as in the case of heart disease, the top killer of Americans.

Among the 10 leading causes of death, the cancer death rate fell, but there were an increase in seven others: suicide, stroke, diabetes, Alzheimer's, flu/pneumonia, chronic lower respiratory diseases and unintentional injuries. The CDC report, "Drug Overdose Deaths in the United States, 1999-2017", said overdose deaths rose 10 percent a year ago. The uptick isn't much - a rise to 5 percent of children without insurance, or about 276,000 more uninsured children, from 4.7 percent in 2016 - but "with an improving economy and a very low unemployment rate, the fact that our nation is going backwards on children's health coverage is very troubling", said Joan Alker, the director of the center and lead author of the report.

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.

CDC & FDA
CDC & FDA

The cause, according to government officials, is a combination of increased drug overdose numbers and higher suicide rates.

Most races and ethnic groups, including black males, Hispanic males and Hispanic females, saw no significant changes in their death rate year over year. Suicide has consistently been among the 10 leading causes of death in the US over the past decade. The rate of death from synthetic opioids such as fentanyl jumped by 71 percent between 2013 and 2017 and by 45 percent between 2016 and 2017 alone. In 1999, by contrast, that number was around 10.5 per 100,000 people.

Drug overdoses have also caused the deaths of more younger people. The 2017-2018 flu season was one of the worst in more than a decade, and some of the deaths from early in that season appeared in the new death dates. Though constant, the rate has increased over time from about 10 suicides per 100,000 in 1999 to 14 per 100,000 in 2017.

In 1999, the suicide rate for the most rural counties was about 13 per 100,000, compared with almost 10 per 100,000 in the most urban counties. In urban America, the rate is 11.1 per 100,000 people; in the most rural parts of the country, it is 20 per 100,000.

One major factor is drug overdoses.

Sharfstein said the most lamentable aspect of the crises is that policymakers know which approaches make a difference, such as medically assisted treatment for drug abusers and increased availability of mental health services in states where they are lacking. She notes that many people may have suicidal thoughts prior to an overdose, or that others may take their lives to escape addiction.

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