Decline In American Life Expectancy Driven By Suicide, Alcohol And Drug Abuse, Says Report
The life expectancy for people in the United States has fallen for the second year in a row. According to a new editorial, these are the reasons why: an increase in suicides and alcohol and drug abuse – all especially prevalent among white, middle-aged Americans and people residing in rural communities.
For the report, Steven Woolf, director of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Center on Society and Health and a research team conducted studies in several states to determine what was causing the alarming statistics and exactly where the worst problems were occurring, all the way down to the county level.
They discovered that the marked increases in alcohol and drug deaths, in addition to suicides, were occurring among whites in rural communities, as opposed to metropolitan areas.
In 1960, Americans enjoyed the highest life expectancy in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which was nearly two-and-one-half years higher than the average for other countries in OECD.
Compared to increases in life expectancy in many other developed nations, the U.S. began to fall behind in the 1980s, however, and dipped below the OECD average by 1998. It leveled off in 2012 and is now on the decline, 1.5 years lower than OECD average.
In 2013, Woolf and co-author Laudan Aron, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute, published research that revealed Americans suffer from poorer health than many other wealthy countries – areas that include injuries, homicides, HIV/AIDS, diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.
They noted aspects of lifestyle such as drug use, gun ownership, high-calorie diets, and a lack of universal health care as probable factors for the poor health outcomes.
For example, the rate of drug overdose deaths rose by 137 percent from 2000-2014, and fatalities related to alcohol and suicide also increased. In roughly the same period, the suicide rate increased by 24 percent, especially among women, white Americans aged 25-59, and people with less education or living in rural communities.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2016, more than 64,000 Americans died from overdoses related to alcohol and drug abuse, and 42,000 of those deaths involved prescription painkillers or illicit opioids.
Also, the CDC reports excessive alcohol use led to an estimated 88,000 deaths and 2.5 million years of potential life lost in the U.S. each year between 2006-2010, shortening the lives of the deceased by an average of three decades.
The authors state that it is unclear as to the precise reason why white Americans living in rural communities are dying at a higher rate from these factors, but experts say that white Americans have
been impacted severely by economic insecurity, social isolation, and the loss of local businesses and the stability their parents once enjoyed.
Conversely, black Americans may be more resilient because they “have contended with longstanding structural disadvantages, discrimination, and higher all-cause mortality.”
Also, over three decades, academic performance has weakened, social divides such income inequality have broadened, middle-class income has stagnated, and the U.S. poverty rate has become higher than most other wealthy countries.
From the editorial, Failing Health in the United States, as published in the British Medical Journal:
“The U.S. is rich, but its wealth is not inclusive. Its social contract is weaker than in other countries—those in need have less access to social services, healthcare, or the prevention and treatment of mental illness and addiction.
The ‘American dream’ is increasingly out of reach, as social mobility declines and fewer children face a better future than their parents.”
The State of Health Issues in the U.S.
The authors say, however, that enacting policies that help boost the middle-class could reverse this trend, which is concerning “because life expectancy has risen for much of the past century in developed countries, including in the U.S.”
The authors go on to say that “In theory, policymakers jolted by the shortening lifespan of Americans would hasten to correct these conditions.”
Moreover, they should foster education, increase support for children and their families, increase wages and economic opportunities for the working class. They would also assist struggling communities, and bolster healthcare.
However, they say, the “pro-business policy agenda favored by elected officials rarely prioritizes these needs.” and in fact, “…recent legislation and regulations may prolong or intensify the economic burden on the middle class and weaken access to healthcare and safety net programs.”
While lawmakers and officials are outspoken about curbing the opioid crisis and note rising healthcare costs, possible solutions for these problems such as support for distressed families and communities are often rejected, by those lawmakers with “competing self-interests or ideological objections.”
The authors stress that the effects of these decisions are “dire” and will result in more deaths, illness, and increasing healthcare costs, as well as an under-competitive economy.
They say that are few resources available, that many Americans do not have access to universal health care and social services, and as a result, perceive the future as bleak.
References For Suicide, Alcohol And Drug Abuse