In 2016, American life expectancy declined for the first time since in nearly 25 years. The last time American life expectancy declined was in 1993, when the HIV epidemic had reached its peak.
The outbreak of HIV was one of the last major health outbreaks that affected American citizens, with a majority of Americans being completely oblivious to their infection due to lack of immediate symptoms.
In contrast, the decline in life expectancy for Americans in 2016 has left a number of researchers puzzled, as there is no singular disease that requires prevention. In fact, medical professionals are now pointing to a number of factors that have caused a spike in the number of deaths in America.
A study on mortality rates in America released last year showed that Americans could expect to live for 78.8 years, a decrease of 0.1 based on data from the year before. The overall death rate for Americans increased by 86,212, a 1.2 percent increase.
While these numbers may seem small, experts say that this increase is drastic and worthy of intervention from governing bodies.
“A 0.1 decrease is huge,” said Dr. Peter Muennig, a professor of health policy and management at Columbia University. He also described the change as a “uniquely American phenomenon” when compared to other developed countries in the UK.
Researchers are working to find the direct cause of the stagnation and subsequent decline. Many agree that the numbers are a culmination of a number health concerns, including diabetes and pre-diabetes.
In a recent press release from the CDC, Ann Albright, who directs the CDC’s Division of Diabetes Translation, noted that the disease is costly in both human and economic terms, urging physicians and leaders to take actions to help educate the public and prevent the disease in the long run. Without preventative measures it’s likely that the trend will only continue to grow.
As an article by Bradley University’s School of Nursing notes, “While the number of people living with diabetes is high, the number at risk of developing the disease is even higher.”
Diabetes isn’t the only concern Americans should be worried about, however. Heart disease, kidney disease, Alzheimers, unintentional injuries, opioid addiction, infant mortality, and suicide rates are also huge concerns that researchers agree the public should be paying attention to.
There are a number of other factors that contribute to overall public health.
In an article by The New York Times, columnist Katie Rogers explains that factors such as race, income, and gender also play a factor in individual’s life expectancy.
Perhaps most at risk, based on survey results are working class whites, as life expectancies for lower income males and females have dipped in recent years, due to drug and alcohol abuse, suicide and economic vulnerabilities. Non-Hispanic Black males also experienced a decrease in life expectancy.
It’s too early to tell whether or not these trends will continue in years to come, but researchers are keeping a sharp eye out for reoccurring trends.
As one of the authors of the study noted, if the situation continues a year from now, “it’s definitely a problem for [the future of] public health.”