According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), life expectancy at birth in the United States declined by 1.5 years from 2019 to 2020. This is the largest one-year drop in life expectancy since the CDC began tracking this data in 1959. The main drivers of this decline are increases in deaths from certain causes, including COVID-19, cancer, heart disease, stroke drug overdoses, and suicides. However, it is important to note that life expectancy varies significantly by race and ethnicity. For example, while the life expectancy for whites declined by 1.2 years from 2019 to 2020, it declined by 2.7 years for Blacks and 2.8 years for Hispanics. These disparities are likely due to a variety of factors, including economic inequality, healthcare disparities, and exposure to environmental hazards. While the decline in life expectancy is concerning, it is hoped that it will be a temporary trend that reverses as death rates from these causes begin to decline.
The United States has long been considered a world leader in health and medicine, but recent data shows that the country’s life expectancy is on the decline. While the pandemic is clearly having a profound impact on health and mortality rates, it is important to note that these other causes of death have been increasing for years. In fact, life expectancy in the United States has been declining for three consecutive years. This trend is concerning and warrants further investigation into the underlying causes. With life expectancy declining, it is more important than ever to focus on prevention and promoting healthy habits.
After 2010, US life expectancy plateaued and in 2014 it began reversing, dropping for three consecutive years — from 78.9 years in 2014 to 78.6 in 2017. This is despite the US spending the most on health care per capita than any other country in the world.
Of all age groups, adults 25 to 64 years old saw the largest increase in mortality rates — 6% — according to the study, published Tuesday in the medical journal JAMA.
The Ohio Valley, which includes West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky, as well as the northern New England area, including New Hampshire, Maine, and Vermont, saw the largest relative increases in deaths, the study found.
“We can’t always assume an increase in life expectancy year in and year out, and the nation risks a future where this may be a disturbing new normal,” said Dr. Howard Koh, who wrote an editorial to accompany the study. Koh is the Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health Leadership at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health.
“It is a whole constellation of conditions they have shown impacts life expectancy. It is not just medical conditions, but also the social drivers that appear to be at play, like income inequality and mental distress,” Koh said. He believes there is a greater awareness of these issues, and that your health is much more than what happens in your doctor’s office.
“Health starts with where you live, labor, learn, play and pray,” Koh said. “What that means is that we need to embed a culture of health through all sectors of society.”
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