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US life expectancy declines for third year in a row

The 2017 CDC report on mortality in the United States revealed some key findings. Last year was the third year in a row that life expectancy for Americans decreased.

Published: December 3, 2018, 1:50 pm

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    In a country like the US, one would expect life expectancy to increase each year because of scientific progress in medicine, a cleaner environment, a reduction of road accidents and the absence of large epidemics or war.

    The findings released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) paint a bleak picture of one of the richest country’s in the world.

    Such an increase has been noted in other developed countries. It is only the US that has experienced such a decline. In 2015, the WHO and UN already listed life expectancy by country, showing the US ranking as number 31 and 43. The new data revealed an even lower ranking.

    Life expectancy for the American population declined to 78,6 years in 2017. The age-adjusted death rate increased by 0,4 percent from 728,8 deaths per 100 000 standard population in 2016 to 731,9 in 2017.

    Age-specific death rates increased from 2016 to 2017 for age groups 25–34, 35–44, and 85 and over, and decreased for the age group 45–54.

    Last year was also the third year in a row that not only life expectancy in the United States decreased but that mortality increased.

    This only happened once before between 1915 to 1918. The cause was the Spanish Flu, which alone killed 675 000 people in the United States, as well as WW1. Such a drop in life expectancy was extreme but so was the rise that followed when the epidemic and war were over.

    The current phenomenon is different, as the main causes of the current decline are an increase in overdoses from opioids and a higher suicide rates.

    Since 1999, the number of drug overdose deaths has more than quadrupled. Deaths attributed to opioids were nearly six times greater in 2017 than they were in 1999.

    Overall, suicides increased by a third between 1999 and 2017, the report showed. In urban America, the rate is 11,1 per 100 000 people, while in the most rural parts of the country, it is 20 per 100 000.

    It is not only life expectancy that shows growing public health issues: Maternal and infant mortality also increased during the last decade and are much higher than in other developed countries. All these social indicators describe a society in decline.

    In times of peace, the only other industrialised country which experienced a decline in these indicators, was Russia in the early 1990s.

    In 1976 Emmanuel Todd, a French anthropologist and demographer, predicted the fall of the Soviet Union, based on similar indicators such as increasing infant mortality rates. In 2001 Todd wrote After the Empire: The Breakdown of the American Order in which he analyzed such trends in the United States.

    Todd noted some disturbing American trends, such as rising stratification based on educational credentials, and the “obsolescence of unreformable political institutions”.

    It is clear that the decline of life expectancy and the opiate crisis in America require fundamental policy changes.

    The Obama administration’s “reform” of the health insurance system however, shunned the public option which would have given insurance to anyone who can not afford the commercial offers. But as many Democrat politicians rely big pharmaceutical lobbies for their campaign funding, there is even less hope that change will come from the left.


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