Life expectancy in the United States dropped last year for the first time since the peak of the HIV/AIDS crisis more than 20 years ago, as deaths rose from nearly every major cause, federal data showed Thursday.
The Myths of US Exceptionalism
The total U.S. population’s life expectancy in 2015 was 78.8 years, a decrease of 0.1 from 2014, according to the report by the National Center for Health Statistics. Across the nation, 86,212 more people died in 2015 than the previous year.
Deaths from eight of the top 10 causes increased, including spikes in accidental deaths among children and deaths from Alzheimer’s disease in the elderly.
The report does not delve into the reasons for the across-the-board decline in life expectancy, but experts point to economic hardship, drug addiction and the increasing burden of dementia on an aging population as potential factors.
The last time life expectancy dropped in the U.S. was in 1993, a year when AIDS-related deaths reached their peak, compounded by a bad year for influenza-related deaths.
For U.S. men, life expectancy dropped 0.2 years from 76.5 years in 2014 to 76.3 years in 2015. For U.S. women, life expectancy decreased from 0.1 to 81.2 years in 2015.
The overall downward trend in the U.S. stands in sharp contrast to the situation worldwide, where global life expectancy increased by five years from 2000 to 2015, according to the World Health Organization.
Federal data from 2014 showed a slight downturn in life expectancy for white people, which experts say could be due to rising drug abuse — particularly an epidemic of prescription painkillers — and poverty.
In 2015, deaths from Alzheimer’s disease rose 15.7 percent while deaths from “unintentional injuries increased by a 6.7 percent increase.”
“The dramatic upswing in the use of opiates and narcotic use across our country is potentially a big factor in driving a phenomenon like accidental injury.”
Across the U.S. adult population, increases were seen in deaths from heart disease (0.9 percent), chronic lower respiratory diseases (2.7 percent), stroke (3.0 percent), diabetes (1.9 percent), kidney disease (1.5 percent) and suicide (2.3 percent).
The rate of cancer-related deaths decreased by 1.7 percent, and influenza and pneumonia deaths were unchanged.
Earlier this week, a study issued in the American Journal of Public Health found that poverty cuts an average of almost 10 years off U.S. men’s lives and seven off women’s.
Men in the poorest areas died on average nearly 10 years earlier, at the age of 69, than men in the wealthiest ones, and women in the poorest areas died on average seven years sooner, at 76 years old.