It’s Not Just Poor White People Driving a Decline in Life Expectancy

In Healthcare On

As the life expectancy of Americans has declined over a period of three years — a drop driven by higher death rates among people in the prime of life — the focus has been on the plight of white Americans in rural areas who were dying from so-called deaths of despair: drug overdoses, alcoholism and suicide.

But a new analysis of more than a half-century of federal mortality data, published on Tuesday in JAMA, found that the increased death rates among people in midlife extended to all racial and ethnic groups, and to suburbs and cities. And while suicides, drug overdoses and alcoholism were the main causes, other medical conditions, including heart disease, strokes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, also contributed, the authors reported.

“The whole country is at a health disadvantage compared to other wealthy nations,” the study’s lead author, Dr. Steven Woolf of Virginia Commonwealth University, said. “We are losing people in the most productive period of their lives. Children are losing parents. Employers have a sicker work force.”

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