In an alarming development, last week, the National Center for Health Statistics released a study concluding that Americans could expect to live for 78.8 years in 2015, a decrease of 0.1 from the year before. That seems like a small drop, however, it’s the first time since 1993 that Americans are seeing a drop in their overall life expectancy. In 1993, the HIV/AIDS epidemic was a significant factor in the mortality rate at that time. According to the recent study, the overall death rate in 2015 increased 1.2 percent — that’s about 86,212 more deaths than those recorded in 2014.
What is the number 1 culprit of death in America? Heart disease followed closely in second place by cancer. These two diseases were each more than 3 times the rate of the third leading death cause: chronic lower respiratory diseases. The remainder of the top ten are in decreasing chronological order as follows: 4) unintentional injuries, 5) stroke, 6) Alzheimer’s disease, 7) diabetes, 8) influenza and pneumonia, 9) kidney disease, and 10) suicide.
As reported in The Washington Post, these findings show increases in “virtually every cause of death. It’s all ages,” said David Weir, director of the health and retirement study at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan. Over the past five years, he noted, improvements in death rates were among the smallest of the past four decades. “There’s this just across-the-board [phenomenon] of not doing very well in the United States.”
What can we learn from reviewing the top ten causes of death among Americans? Simply put, diet appears to have the largest impact of death rates in America and the evidence indicates that the adverse effect of increasingly poor diets among Americans may now be catching up in terms of decreasing life expectancy. A poor diet has been linked to at least 5 of the top 10 causes of death in America (heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, kidney disease). With heart disease and cancer being by far the two largest causes of death among adult in America, the good news is that three things can significantly lower the risk of these two diseases: 1) good nutrition, 2) exercise and 3) no smoking.
Another alarming trend is the increase in deaths from drug and alcohol poisoning and suicide rates for middle age white Americans. This past November, two Princeton economists, Angus Deaton and Anne Case released their analysis that as the The New York Times reports:
Something startling is happening to middle-aged white Americans. Unlike every other age group, unlike every other racial and ethnic group, unlike their counterparts in other rich countries, death rates in this group have been rising, not falling.
One explanation as to why substance abuse and suicide have caused a significant increase in the mortality rate for middle age white Americans are the continuing trends of stagnant wages, depression and joblessness currently affecting middle to lower class Americans, especially those with high school or less education.