Life expectancy in the US diminished for the first time in decades

❝ Last year, we learned about a troubling trend in the US population. Death rates were creeping up for middle-age white people, particularly women. The researchers who identified the problem in a blockbuster study attributed the change to economic struggles and accidental poisonings — mainly caused by prescription painkiller and heroin use.

But a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a more disturbing finding: It’s not just middle-age white folks who are dying sooner — it’s everyone.

Between 2014 and 2015, death rates crept up for the entire population, and the causes are more complex than the oft-cited rise in opioid use…

1) Mortality is increasing for the entire population

❝ …The change is small, but it represents a trend not seen in decades, said Jiaquan Xu, an epidemiologist with the National Center for Health Statistics at the CDC.

“In 1999, the [age-adjusted death rate] increased, but the last time life expectancy decreased for the total population was in 1993,” Xu said. “After that, it sometimes decreased for specific age groups, but not the total population.”…

2) Eight of the 10 leading causes of death increased in 2015

❝ In 2015, the rates of eight of the top 10 leading causes of death in America increased — including heart disease, chronic lower respiratory diseases, unintentional injuries, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, kidney disease, and suicide. (The trends for flu and pneumonia didn’t change.) According to Xu, it’s unusual to see a negative trend for so many health measures.

“Mortality is rising across a wide variety of illnesses,” wrote Dartmouth health economist Jonathan Skinner…”so it’s not just the opioid epidemic. And as a consequence, it’s not entirely easy to figure out what to do about it.”

The only outlier on the top-10 list was cancer, which has seen its death rate drop by 1.7 percent in the last year. That was no surprise: The cancer death rate has actually been declining since the early 1990s. These changes are mainly attributed gains in early detection and treatment advances, as well as declines in the smoking rate.

3) Whites are suffering — but there’s still a big black-white health gap

❝ According to the latest data, both black men and white men saw their death rates increase by about the same amount. (White females saw a bigger increase in mortality than black females: The death rate increased by 1.6 percent for white women while it stayed the same for black women.)

This is part of a larger trend. The gap between black and white mortality has narrowed in recent years. But in absolute terms, African Americans have worse health outcomes and a shorter life expectancy than white Americans…

“That life expectancy hasn’t risen for any of the groups — black, white, Hispanic, male, female — is concerning,” Skinner said.

❝ What’s more, we’re entering a time where funding and political will is focused on medicine to cure people and not on public health to prevent illness before people get sick. In particular, the Senate passed the 21st Century Cures Act — the biggest health reform bill since Obamacare. The legislation promises to bring medical cures to patients faster. But nearly half of the funds for the legislation are going to be paid for cutting $3.5 billion from public health efforts like immunizations and obesity and tobacco prevention.

Congress cares about cure, of course. Last time I checked, the biggest contributor to national political campaigns in the United States was Big Pharma. They’re pretty much always part of the top vote buyers. And Congress members already have socialized medicine.

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