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The Decline of Life Expectancy

Published on December 7th, 2019

A recent report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association that looked at the past six decades of mortality data noted a decline in overall life expectancy in the United States for three consecutive years. The JAMA report looked at life expectancy and mortality across the country from 1959 through 2017. Final life expectancy numbers for 2018 will be released soon by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The general trend: Life expectancy improved a great deal for several decades, particularly in the 1970s, then slowed down, leveled off and finally reversed course after 2014, decreasing three years in a row.

Despite spending more on health care than any other country, the United States has seen increasing mortality and falling life expectancy for people age 25 to 64, who should be in the prime of their lives.  Death rates from suicide, drug overdoses, liver disease and dozens of other causes have been rising over the past decade for young and middle-aged adults. By age group, the highest relative jump in death rates from 2010 to 2017 — 29 percent — has been among people age 25 to 34. The all-cause death rate — meaning deaths per 100,000 people — rose 6 percent from 2010 to 2017 among working-age people in the United States.

In contrast, other wealthy nations have generally experienced continued progress in extending longevity. About a third of the estimated 33,000 “excess deaths” that the study says occurred since 2010 were in just four states: Ohio, Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Indiana. The state with the biggest percentage rise in death rates among working-age people in this decade — 23.3 percent — is New Hampshire, the first primary state.  All five of these states are part of the opioid crisis.

The risk of death from drug overdoses increased 486 percent for midlife women between 1999 and 2017; the risk increased 351 percent for men in that same period. Women also experienced a bigger relative increase in risk of suicide and alcohol-related liver disease.
Obesity is a significant part of the story. The average woman in the United States today weighs as much as the average man half a century ago, and men now weigh about 30 pounds more. Most people in the United States are overweight — an estimated 71.6 percent of the population age 20 and older, according to the CDC. That figure includes the 39.8 percent who are obese, defined as having a body mass index of 30 or higher in adults (18.5 to 25 is the normal range). Obesity is also rising in children; nearly 19 percent of the population age 2 to 19 is obese.
Joe Pioletti
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