Life expectancy in America dropped for the third straight year in row, the first time a three-year decline has occurred since 1915, when a flu epidemic killed 1 million Americans.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the report in the final days of November 2018.
Life expectancy for Americans decreased to 78.6 years, down one month from the 2016 calculation.
“Tragically, this troubling trend is largely driven by deaths from drug overdose and suicide. 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,” Dr. Robert R. Fedfield, the CDC Director, said in a media statement. “CDC is committed to putting science into action to protect U.S. health, but we must all work together to reverse this trend and help ensure that all Americans live longer and healthier lives.”
Experts say there are a few reasons for the drop.
In short: There are a growing number of people acquiring chronic disease, higher suicide and overdose rates, and a larger elderly population in America.
Suicide is at a 50 year peak in the U.S., with about 14 deaths for every 100,000 people. Additionally, deaths from opioid overdoses surpassed 70,000 last year, making prescription drugs more deadly than heroin.
“This finding is not encouraging,” said Dr. Hayley Moak-Blest, who specializes in family medicine at Lahey Health. “We want expectance to inch toward living a longer, healthier life. Not the reverse.”
There were more than 2.8 million U.S. deaths in 2017, almost 70,000 more than the previous year. In fact, 2017 had the most deaths in a single year since the government began counting more than 100 years ago.
Deaths in younger age groups — particularly middle-aged — had the largest impact on life expectancy calculations.
“Deaths regarding opioid overdoses are particularly troubling,” Dr. Moak-Blest said. “In preventing these deaths, it’s critical for people to know there’s a support system out there.”
Of the nation’s 10 leading causes of death, mostly chronic diseases, cancer is the only category to regress.
“In preventing deaths from disease, patients must take a holistic approach,” Dr. Moak-Blest said. “Diet and exercise are so important in remaining healthy just as much as taking medicine and having an annual physical.”
For more information on preventive medicine and aging gracefully, speak with your Lahey Health provider.