For the first time in more than two decades, National Center for Health Statistics data shows a decline in American life expectancy. The average life expectancy at birth for both sexes declined between 2014 to 2015. Although the decline was not drastic - only one-tenth of a year - professionals are still concerned.
The top leading causes of death in the Unites States are (in order): heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory diseases, unintentional injury, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, flu or pneumonia, kidney disease, and suicide. David Weir, from the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan, has identified that all but one of these leading causes saw increases in deaths per 100,000 people from 2014 to 2015. According to an interview Weir did with The Washington Post, recent decreases in death rates from these top ten causes prior to 2015 have been meager at best.
It would seem at first glance that the United States is currently amidst a health and wellness crisis. The last time researchers observed a decline in Americans’ average life expectancies was in 1993. That year, according to World Bank Data, the Unites States life expectancy at birth dropped a total of two-tenths of a year, from 75.6 to 75.4. However, several experts attributed the apparent increase in deaths from leading causes to greater reporting of deaths attributed to diseases, not necessarily by growth in the number of deaths.
Others have highlighted that similarly developed nations are not seeing similar trends. This possibly points fingers at the state of America’s’ healthcare system and increasing socioeconomic stratification. As the middle class disappears, it is replaced with a larger proportion of the population living in the lower class and/or in poverty. The ability to afford healthier foods and appropriate health care is positively correlated with household income. The American Nutrition Association postulates that as income falls, families consume cheaper, processed foods. A subsistence diet with little or no fresh produce gives rise to health issues such as heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. It follows that, without access to reliable systems of health care, these citizens would consequently exhibit a continued decline in health and life expectancy.
It’s pertinent to remember that health care is only one facet of maintaining a healthy population. Income inequality and economic trends, such as unemployment levels, also need to be addressed in order to face this potential declining trend in life expectancy head on.