Life Expectancy Declining in United States

For the first time since 1993, the life expectancy in the United States has declined.  USA Today mentioned in the article “Dying Younger: U.S. Life Expectancy A Real Problem” that there were 86,212 more U.S. deaths in 2015 than the previous year with a 1.2% age-adjusted increase.  Americans born last year have lost nearly a month off of their lifetime based off of data trends.  Reports surfaced last December showing the fact that despite many countries have been improving their life expectancy at birth, the United States has dropped and the trend will continue if certain health risks are not addressed nationally.

Obesity remains one of the leading factors in the decline of life expectancy in recent years.  The New England Journal of Medicine reviewed this study and brought to light the history of rising obesity in America and how it’s on track to continue.

“After remaining relatively stable in the 1960s and 1970s, the prevalence of obesity among adults in the United States increased by approximately 50 percent per decade throughout the 1980s and 1990s,” the special report said.  “Assuming that current rates of death associated with obesity remain constant in this century, the overall negative effect of obesity on life expectancy in the United States is a reduction in life expectancy of one third to three fourths of a year.”

Obesity is such an epidemic because of all the health issues that branch out from it, such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke.  The New England Medical Journal said that effects from diabetes can shave nearly 13 years off of one’s life.

Heart disease is another cause of death that has increased in recent data.  There has been an overall increase of 1% from 2014 – 2015.  It still remains one of the leading causes of death in the United States and can be triggered by obesity.

Slowly rising rates of Chronic Lower Respiratory Diseases, Alzheimer’s Disease and Kidney Disease were also noted as contributing to the decline.  According to the Washington Post, Suicide, the 10th-leading cause of death in the United States, rose to 44,193 from 42,773 in 2014.  Speculation of what may have caused this consider economic factors to be a probable issue.

The author of the main report, Jiaquan Xu revealed to USA Today that a decrease in expectancy is contributed to a 3% increase in accidents, most notably drug overdoses.  National Public Radio talked with Arun Hendi, a demographer at Duke University, who solidified this fact.  “The epidemic of prescription opioid painkillers and heroin abuse is probably fueling the increase in unintentional injuries,” he said.
The United States is ranked 42 globally in life expectancy, according to the CIA World Fact Book.  Jonathan Skinner, a professor at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy & Clinical Practice noted in USA Today that the U.S. is spending 18% of GDP on health care.  Ellen Meara, a professor at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, further explained that  “the health-care system is only a part of health. Income inequality, nutrition differences and lingering unemployment all need to be addressed,” she said.

The New England Medical Journal drew some interesting conclusions on how this decline in life expectancy could possibly be reversed.  Cure for disease, remedy of the overwhelming obesity problem and bringing an end to the overpowering drug epidemic all could add months, possibly years onto American’s lifespans.  Looking at trends to predict the future is one way science is trying to connect the dots.

“Some scientists answer this question by extrapolating from historical trends, which has led to the recent prediction that life expectancy at birth will rise to 100 years in the United States and other developed nations by the year 2060. The United Nations used a similar method but different assumptions to arrive at a projected life expectancy of 100 years for males and females in most countries by the year 2300,” the Journal reported.

It is important to note as well that it takes years for trends to develop through large data.  The Journal speculated that technology may be the answer to this problem in years to come.

“Life-extending technology that might lead to much higher life expectancy does not yet exist and, should it be developed, must be widely implemented before it would influence statistics on population levels.”


Allison, D., Brody, J., Butler, R., Carnes, B., Hayflick, l.,Hershow, L., Layden, R.,Ludwig, D.,Olshansky, S., Passaro, D. “A Potential Decline in Life Expectancy in the United States in the 21st Century.” New England Journal of Medicine. 17 Mar 2005. Web

Bacon, J. “Dying younger: U.S. life expectancy a real problem.” USA Today. 8 Dec, 2016. Web.

Bernstein, L. “U.S. life expectancy declines for the first time since 1993.” Washington Post. 8 Dec, 2016. Web.

Stein, R. “Life Expectancy in U.S. Drops for First Time in Decades Report Finds.” National Public Radio. 8 Dec, 2016. Web.

Data Banks:

“Life expectancy at birth, total (years),” World Bank Group. 2016. Web.

Roser, M., “Life Expectancy.” Our World In Data. 2016. Web.

“The World Factbook.” Central Intelligence Agency. 2016. Web.

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