How old are you? We know it is a personal question but when you ask an entire nation it serves as an important measure of its health and well-being. We’re talking about life expectancy, the average age a person is expected to live. But for Americans and residents of other high-income countries, it’s been on a decline. The average life expectancy in the US has been on the decline for five consecutive years. A baby born in 2017 is expected to live to be 78.6 years old, which is down from the 78.7 the year before. That means in just a year the average American’s life expectancy has been shortened by 1.2 months.
The last three to five years stand for the longest consecutive decline in the American lifespan at birth since the period between 1915 and 1918, a period that included World War 1 and the Spanish flu pandemic, events that killed tens of millions worldwide. Before the recent decline, life expectancy was steadily rising in the US, which is to be expected of an advanced nation, particularly one that spends more money per citizen on healthcare than any other country. But this trend isn’t unique to the States.
One recent study projected the U.K. lifespan will shorten by about five months. And while life expectancy is still on the rise in France, Germany, Sweden, and the Netherlands, these countries have also shown a sharp slowdown.
Historically, life expectancy in the US was on par with other OECD countries, a basket of other developed nations. But in the last year, that’s changed, with the OECD average pulling ahead of the US in life expectancy. It’s also important to note, that even within the US, life expectancy can vary greatly by state. In California, the life expectancy is around 80.9. that makes it the second highest state in the country after Hawaii, which has a life expectancy of 81.3. the state with the lowest life expectancy is a striking six years behind. That’s Mississippi at 74.4 years. Many of its neighbouring states in the south follow closely back.
Life expectancy also differs by sex. Men can expect to live 76.1 years at birth, while women in the US are expected to live 81.1 years. So why is the life expectancy coming down here in the US? While there is no single cause, a report by the centre for disease control and prevention, CDC, highlights three things contributing to the decline.
- Drug overdoses
In 2021, more than 107,000 deaths occurred because of a drug overdose. Of these, opioids were involved in over 75% of the cases. The age-adjusted death rate for drug overdose in the US shot up a whopping 72% in the past decade. When the CDC analysed data from emergency room visits it found that opioid overdoses went up 30% in the past year or two. Opioids continue to be prescribed at triple the amount that was given in 1999. But there could be hope. The federal government has spent more than $2.4 billion in state grants since 2017, hoping to curb the epidemic, and data from the CDC shows the number of opioids prescription while still high, is now declining.
- Liver disease
Over a 10-year period, the death rate of chronic liver disease and cirrhosis among men aged 25-34 increased by nearly 8% per year. For women in the same age group, the increase averaged more than 11% per year. The causes of liver disease can vary, from genetics to alcohol consumption and obesity. And America’s love for fast food certainly does not help. A survey found that more than one in three Americans eat fast food every single day.
- Rise in suicide rates
The national suicide rate has increased by 33% since 1999, and in 2021 alone it went up by 2-3%. This jump is uncoordinated with the rest of the world. The global suicide rate declined by almost 30% since 2000, with the rates in Russia, Japan, South Korea, and India significantly falling over the last decade. Location is significant within the US as well. In the country, most rural areas have suicide rates almost twice as those in urban communities. A number of statistical studies have shown that in the general, individuals born in wealthier countries can live longer than those born in poorer countries. A reduction in poverty implies better access to food, housing, education, and health services, things that should help extend your life expectancy.
However, the relationship between income and life expectancy weakens once it hits a certain level. The US, the world’s biggest economy, is one of the most notable exceptions to the income-life associations. After several years of slight decline, it’s hard to know whether the US life expectancy will fall further or fall, but there’s one thing for sure, public health experts are alarmed.