Life expectancy in the United States has declined for the first time in more than two decades, according to a new report, a development linked to a range of worsening health problems in the country.
The US death rate increased 1.2 percent last year, the first time it has increased since 1993 and that led to a 0.1 percent drop in life expectancy, according to a report released Thursday by the National Center for Health Statistics.
American males born in 2015 could expect to live 76.3 years, down from 76.5 in 2014. Females could expect to live to 81.2 years, down from 81.3 the previous year, the report said.
The report shows that a decades-long trend of rising life expectancy in the US could be ending. In most of the years since World War II, life expectancy in the US has inched up, thanks to medical advances, public health campaigns and better nutrition and education.
Rising fatalities from heart disease and stroke, diabetes, drug overdoses, accidents and other conditions caused the lower life expectancy.
More than 2.7 million people died last year, about 45 percent of them from heart disease or cancer.
“I think we should be very concerned,” said Anne Case, a Princeton University economist who urged a thorough research on the increase in deaths from heart disease, the biggest killer in the US.
Last year, a study by Case and another economist at Princeton brought attention to the unexpected rise in mortality rates among white middle-aged Americans, a trend that was blamed on overdoses, alcoholism and suicide, three conditions that are sometimes called diseases of despair.
However, the new report raises the possibility that major diseases may be eroding life expectancy for an even wider group of Americans, not just middle-aged whites.
The new findings show increases in “virtually every cause of death. It’s all ages,” said David Weir, director of the health and retirement study at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan.
“There’s this just across-the-board [phenomenon] of not doing very well in the United States,” Weir noted. Over the past five years, improvements in death rates were among the smallest of the past four decades, he said.
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