In 2017, U.S. life expectancy dropped for the third consecutive year, with the average American now expected to live to 78.6 years old, down from 78.7 in 2016. The decrease is primarily due to a rise in drug overdoses and suicides, according to data released Thursday morning by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).
“Life expectancy gives us a snapshot of the nation’s overall health and these sobering statistics are a wake-up call that we are losing too many Americans, too early and too often, to conditions that are preventable,” CDC director Robert Redfield said, referring to the downward trend that began in 2015 and is now the longest ongoing decline in U.S. life expectancy since World War I.
While the top three causes of death remained the same (heart disease, cancer and accidental injuries), the overall U.S. death rate rose by 0.4 percent, as some categories saw drastic spikes. Drug overdose deaths, for instance, rose a shocking 9.6 percent in 2017, up to 70,237, with those specifically caused by synthetic opioids like fentanyl increasing by 45 percent. The states with the highest age-adjusted rates of fatal overdoses were West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
The national suicide rate also made a dramatic jump, up 3.7 percent in 2017 alone (and up 33 percent since 1999) to 14.1 suicides per 100,000 people. And in more rural regions, where there’s less access to mental healthcare, the rate is almost twice as high as what it is in urban areas, at 20.1 suicides per 100,000 people compared to 11.1. Suicide is still ranked 10th on the list of leading causes of death, but researchers say the increased rate, particularly in rural America, played a major role in the decline of life expectancy.
“We must all work together to reverse this trend and help ensure that all Americans live longer and healthier lives,” urged Redfield, adding that the CDC “is committed to putting science into action to protect U.S. health.”