US Life Expectancy Falters

For the first time in a decades long rise American life expectancy declined last year

We are fed a tale of consistently rising life expectancy, but the reality of the situation is that the easy gains have largely been made. Hygiene, public health and nutrition had a huge impact on average life expectancy in the 20th century, but the latest data suggests we are beginning to hit a wall and may even see some small declines in some regions. 

New data from 2015 has painted a bleaker picture of American life expectancy; life expectancy dipped for the first time in decades. The more surprising element of this data is that there was no major outbreak which is normally the cause of an increase in mortality. The last one year decline occurred during the AIDs epidemic in the 1990s.

"With four years, you're starting to see some indication of something a little more ominous" 

A warning sign

As of 2015 the average American is predicted to live  78 years and 9½ months according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's data. In 1950 life expectancy was 68 years, but in both 2012 and 2014 predictions were actually higher than they are now. Perhaps more strikingly is how much the US lags behind other high income nations such as Japan and Italy, with Japan's average life expectancy set at 84 years.

This analysis comes from 2015 mortality rates, which topped 2.7 million deaths - a rise of 86,000 from the year before. This rather poignantly highlights a turning point in the nation's demographics. We are now in an age of demographic greying, and the data is beginning to reflect that. While the mortality rate may be skewering the data to inaccurately represent life expectancy, there has actually been a rise in deaths from heart disease, drug overdoses, chronic lower lung disease, accidental injuries, stroke, Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, kidney disease and suicide.

What factors are at play?

This may be partly due to an increasing amount of elderly people, but the suicide and drug statistics are perhaps a more telling statistic of additional social problems too. Recent research has shown that life expectancy gaps are widening between the rich and poor sectors of society. This research also found that life expectancy actually increased for the affluent and highly educated, but declined for the poorer, more rural based populations. Poor wage growth has seen a decline in living standards for many working class people in developed nations, which may be contributing to higher mortality in certain groups. 

"There are a lot of things happening at the same time. The troubling trends are most pronounced for the people who are the most disadvantaged. But if we don't know why life expectancy is decreasing for some groups, we can't be confident that it won't start declining for others"

The changing trends may also be a result of obesity, which is a more pronounced concern in the US in contrast to other developed nations. What's clear is that while life expectancy is increasing for some wealthier, more educated people around the world, as a whole growth is flatlining in developed nations. We have reached a point in which we need to begin tackling the aging process in order to make any significant gains in not only lifespan, but also healthspan too. 

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