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Americans Are Dying Young and the Reasons Why Are Scary

A symptom of something broadly wrong in American society.

by Tim Marcin
Nov 27 2019, 4:36pm

In utter defiance of historical trends, people are dying younger and younger in America. But what’s especially troubling is how these people are dying, a new report released this week found.

Life expectancy for Americans overall has dropped the last three years data is available, starting in 2014. Today, an average American can expect to live 78.6 years, down from 78.9 years in 2014.

That reversed a longtime trend of rising life expectancy. Between 1959 and 2016, the average American lifespan shot up from 69.9 years to 78.9 years.

But what’s most disturbing about the decline in life expectancies is why. The decline over the last few years has largely been caused by young-to-middle age people dying from things like suicide or overdoses.

Midlife deaths began ticking up in the ‘90s but have increased sharply since 2010.

“During 2010-2017, midlife all-cause mortality rates increased from 328.5 deaths/100 000 to 348.2 deaths/100 000,” read the report published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association. “By 2014, midlife mortality was increasing across all racial groups, caused by drug overdoses, alcohol abuse, suicides, and a diverse list of organ system diseases.”

READ: The latest stats on American men's lifespan are alarming

Still, there’s no single thing to fix to prevent people from dying young. Experts instead point to something broadly in American society that’s leading people to make destructive life choices. The U.S. has the worst midlife mortality rate among 17 high-income countries, the report found.

“There’s something more fundamental about how people are feeling at some level — whether it’s economic, whether it’s stress, whether it’s deterioration of family,” Ellen Meara, a professor at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, told the Washington Post. “People are feeling worse about themselves and their futures, and that’s leading them to do things that are self-destructive and not promoting health.”

Pitted against comparable nations, the U.S. fares horribly in life expectancy. People in Japan live, on average, to be 84.1 years old. In Australia, it’s 82.5 years. In France, it’s 82.4. The U.K. is 81.2.

READ: How to get everyone to live to 100

Death rates have risen especially in the New England states — New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont — and the Ohio Valley, which includes West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky. In other words, opioids country.

Steven Woolf, director emeritus of the VCU Center on Society and Health and the study’s lead author, pointed to a lack of social programs and support systems for working families as a major reason why Americans are dying younger. Without a safety net, rough spells can lead to so-called deaths of despair that involve drugs, alcohol abuse, overeating, or other harmful behaviors.

“We’re making a huge mistake if we don’t step back and look at the root causes,’’ Woolf told USA Today. “The prescription for the country is we’ve got to help these people. And if we don’t, we’re literally going to pay with our lives.’’

Cover: Discarded syringes for injecting heroin, are scattered on the street in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pa. on Saturday, April 28, 2018. (AP Photo/Jonathan Elderfield)