New Study Finds Drop in U.S. Life Expectancy Among All Races and Geographies, Largely Driven by Midlife Deaths

A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) has found that increased death rates among U.S. residents have extended to all racial and ethnic groups, as well as all geographies – rural, suburban, and urban. The most recent report strengthens recent analyses from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that have shown downward trends in U.S. life expectancy, representing a U.S. health disadvantage compared to other high-income nations despite the United States having the highest per capita health care spending in the world.

The newest study examined life expectancy data between 1959 and 2016, as well as cause-specific mortality rates between 1999 and 2017. Between 1959 and 2016, life expectancy increased from 69.9 years to 78.9 years but declined for the three consecutive years after 2014. Notably, an increase in death rates of individuals aged 25 to 64 has occurred across all racial groups, caused by drug overdoses, alcohol abuse, suicides, and an extensive list of organ system diseases. The largest relative increases in midlife mortality rates occurred in New England and Ohio Valley states, including Ohio, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and Indiana.

While similar recent research has pointed to “deaths of despair” – drug overdoses, alcoholism, and suicide, particularly among rural, white populations – the JAMA study has found that a number of chronic diseases including heart disease, strokes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease have also played an outsized role among all populations in all areas. In the study, researchers note the strong nexus between social and economic hardship and premature death and, given the public health and economic implications of such deaths, make a further call to better understand underlying causes.

The full JAMA study is available here.