The latest numbers on U.S. mortality rates is kind of unsettling, and the data has researchers scratching their heads for an answer

By Lauren Mazzo
December 09, 2016

You know the term for when someone in his or her 40s or 50s decides to ditch the station wagon for a red sports car: midlife crisis. But what if that shiny new convertible you purchased for your 50th birthday were actually symbolic of a three-quarters-life crisis?

With the advances in modern technology, continuously emerging medical discoveries, and the fact that there is more knowledge about the human body than ever before, it makes sense to think that experts will continue to find ways to keep bodies running stronger for longer. Unfortunately (and confusingly), the latest stats show that how long people are actually living isn't falling in line with how far health sciences have come. In fact, the life expectancy for the U.S. population decreased from 78.9 years to 78.8 between 2014 and 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's 2015 Mortality in the United States Report, which was just released. Now that tenth of a decimal might not sound like much, but despite all those medical advances, this is the first time life expectancy has decreased in this country since 1993.

You're probably still thinking, "0.1 years, really? Who cares?" But, actually, it's kind of a big deal. For one, it's only an issue in America, apparently; other First World countries such as Sweden, Japan, Russia, Denmark, Ireland, Canada, and Australia-to name a few-all have consistently lengthened life expectancies, according to the World Health Organization. Plus, it's statistically predictable to see lifespans extend over time, so it's alarming to see any decrease at all, according to Peter Muennig, M.D., M.P.H., a professor of health policy and management at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, as reported by the New York Times. Furthermore, the death rate increased 1.2 percent between 2014 and 2015.

But why? The 10 leading causes of death have remained the same, with heart disease and cancer topping out the list by a landslide, followed by chronic lower respiratory diseases, unintentional injuries, stroke, Alzheimer's, diabetes, influenza, and pneumonia (that's it-no more excuses not to get the flu shot), kidney disease, and suicide. (Here: 5 Simple Ways to Prevent Heart Disease.) There is one saving grace in the report: While rates for most of the 10 leading causes of death have increased between 2014 and 2015 (the flu and pneumonia remained the same), death rates due to cancer have actually decreased by 1.7 percent.

Some people have pointed their fingers at rising obesity rates (the rate of obesity has steadily increased from 30.5 percent to 37.7 percent in the last 15 years) and an increasingly threatening opioid epidemic, but that doesn't explain the increase in mortality across all the leading causes of death, Muennig told the New York Times. So...lifetimes are getting shorter and there's no clear-cut answer as to why-great.

Perhaps there is one other bit of encouraging news you could squeeze out of this report: Women still have a higher life expectancy than men. (And this is probably the reason why. Or, you know, it could all come down to the power of being independent, as proven by the oldest living person on Earth.)


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