Life Expectancy Drops First Time Since 1993

cdcThe Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a federal agency, has reported the remarkable news that U.S. life expectancy has dropped for the first time since 1993. According to Mortality in the United States, 2015 (NCHS Data Brief No.  267, December 2016):

  • Life expectancy for the U.S. population in 2015 was 78.8 years, a decrease of 0.1 year from 2014.
  • The age-adjusted death rate increased 1.2% from 724.6 deaths per 100,000 standard population in 2014 to 733.1 in 2015.
  • The 10 leading causes of death in 2015 remained the same as in 2014. Age-adjusted death rates increased for eight leading causes and decreased for one.

The one death rate which improved was for cancer. So, we are “winning” that war, at least relatively speaking.

The entire decrease was for life expectancy at birth. Life expectancy at age 65 was unchanged from the previous year. In other words, children and working-age people are bearing the burden of this decline.

One wants to leap to the conclusion that Obamacare is killing people, which would be absurd, especially as most Americans 65 and older are in Medicare, a government health plan. On the other hand, maybe people who can survive the government interfering in their health care until they hit 65 are hardy enough to survive the next step!

However, the worst (by far) contributor to the decline was an increase in deaths attributable to Alzheimer’s disease, which (although not described in the data brief) is concentrated in people 65 and older. These deaths accounted for almost half (47 percent) of the decline in age-adjusted mortality. So, the elderly must have enjoyed significant improvement in outcomes for cancer and other diseases in order not to have suffered a decline in life expectancy.

The next worst contributor to the decline was “unintentional injuries,” which accounted for just under one third of the increase in the death rate, and must (by subtraction) be concentrated among those under 65. Suicides also increased significantly, although they do not account for a large absolute share of deaths. Researchers often include both unintentional injuries and suicides as related outcomes for people suffering mental illness and homelessness.

Given the extreme safety of our modern American environment, it would be remarkable if the increase in deaths due to unintentional injuries were concentrated among mentally healthy people. The data brief suggests the harmful behaviors that have been observed increasing among white men are also happening in the rest of the population, because the decline in life expectancy happened for both sexes and all races.

Comments (8)

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  1. Barry Carol says:

    In looking at this data for people younger than 65, I think the focus should be on how to reduce deaths from accidents, murder, suicide and drug overdoses. Among the older folks, it could be that more people facing an end of life situation are choosing hospice care sooner than in the past thus hastening their death and probably saving money for the healthcare system as well. I don’t think that’s such a bad thing.

    One of our goals should be increasing health span or the number of years of healthy life as opposed to life span meaning the number of years we are technically alive irrespective of quality and the ability to perform the normal activities of daily living. As health span increases, people will live longer and healthier lives and healthcare costs will decline or at least grow less rapidly than in the past.

    • Ron Greiner says:

      Barry, lucky we all don’t think like you or we would all be married to your wife.

    • Devon Herrick says:

      Barry I agree about reducing deaths from accidents, murder, suicide and drug overdoses. But also among the less educated classes, food and television are a feel-good form of cheap entertainment. By contrast, medical care and healthy living are often costly and bring little pleasure. People who are so obese they have to use a motorized shopping cart are common. All the hypertensives, lipid-lowering drugs out there are ill-equipped to mitigate the damage.

      • Barry Carol says:

        It’s also problematic that on a per calorie basis, healthy foods like fruits and vegetables are 12 times more expensive than junk food and harder to find in low income neighborhoods to boot. However, just as high taxes help to reduce the percentage of the population that smoke cigarettes, the same strategy could work to reduce consumption of sugary drinks and higher taxes on beer, wine and hard drinks might also be appropriate to lower consumption of those. If those approaches fail, gastric bypass surgery may be an option for many of the morbidly obese but it’s an expensive procedure and it comes with risks too.

        • Allan says:

          Barry, when your done with those suggestions start on things like steak and move onto mountain climbing and even bike riding…and let’s add joggers in a ‘save the knee’ campaign. How far will you go in controling the lives of others?

          • Without editorializing (much) I find this approach is often endorsed by those who also want universal access to health coverage financed by taxpayers. That is, although they abhor the idea of charging higher premiums to those with higher likely costs, they do it through the “back door” by advocating excise taxes on unhealthy foods.

            However, the latter is a very blunt instrument because not everyone responds the same. There are people with terrible diets who are very healthy and impose few costs on the health system.

  2. Floccina says:

    It would be ironic if access to health insurance lead to more opium use and that to a decline life expectancy.

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