February 28, 2018

Life Expectancy Isn’t Improving-Here’s Why

Life Expectancy Isn’t Improving – Here’s Why The National Center for Health Statistics released statistics late last year indicating life expectancy has fallen two years in a row. For women, life expectancy has remained stable the past two years at 81.1 years. But for men life expectancy is 76.3 years, which is five years less than women. Overall, from 2000-2010, life expectancy was improving, but beginning in 2010 we began to see life expectancy stabilize. And now, despite spending more on healthcare compared to other high-income countries, life expectancy is declining.

Many experts speculate the decline in life expectancy may mostly be driven by the opioid epidemic.

In 2016, there was a 21% rise in deaths caused by drug overdoses with one-third of those related to opioids.

Because of this, the opioid crisis has been declared a public health emergency. Many public health policies are in development to address this crisis including better pain management policies and better treatments for prevention, treatment, and recovery services.

But there is another underlying cause to the decline of life expectancy that we cannot ignore– the rising obesity rate.

In the past 30 years the obesity rate has almost tripled and as of 2017, almost 40% of the population is obese.

It is well known that excess weight increases risk for heart disease, cancer, diabetes, sleep apnea, high blood pressure, osteoarthritis, kidney disease, and fatty liver. The top three leading causes of death – heart disease, cancer and chronic lower respiratory disease – account for nearly 50% of all deaths in the US.

In 2004, Mokdad and colleagues released a groundbreaking research article titled “Actual Causes of Death in the United States, 2000.” This research article explores the underlying causes of the leading causes of death in the U.S.

The researchers concluded that to improve life expectancy we need to be treating the actual cause of these diseases which include tobacco use, poor diet, lack of physical activity and alcohol consumption.

While the average life expectancy is declining, there is hope. The good news is that simple strategies such as quitting smoking, eating a better diet, being more physically active, and consuming alcohol in moderation can help increase how long you live. By making these changes, we may start to see life expectancy increase again.

Sources: Mortality in the United States (2016), NCHS; About the U.S. Opioid Epidemic (2018), HHS; Mokdad et al. JAMA 2004; Health Risks of Being Overweight (2015), NIH; Deaths and Mortality (2017), CDC.

April Verdi, RD, LD
Population Health Consultant

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