The conclusions from a comprehensive new study by researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University showing that mortality rates for U.S. adults ages 25-64 continue to increase, driving down the general population’s life expectancy for at least three consecutive years should not be ignored.
The report, “Life Expectancy and Mortality Rates in the United States, 1959-2017,’’ was published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The study paints a bleak picture of a workforce plagued by drug overdoses, suicides and organ-system diseases while grappling with economic stresses.
In a trend that cuts across racial and ethnic boundaries, the U.S. has the worst midlife mortality rate among 17 high-income countries despite leading the world in per-capita spending on health care.
And while life expectancy in those other industrialized nations continues to inch up, it has been going in the opposite direction in America, decreasing from a peak of 78.9 years in 2014 to 78.6 in 2017.
By comparison, according to the Peterson-Kaiser Health System Tracker, the average longevity in similar countries is 82.2 years. Japan’s is 84.1, France’s 82.4 and Canada’s 81.9. They left the U.S. behind in the 1980s and increased the distance as the rate of progress in this country diminished and eventually halted in 2011.
Steven Woolf, director emeritus of the VCU Center on Society and Health and the study’s lead author, said the reasons for the decline go well beyond the lack of universal health care in the U.S. – in contrast with those other nations – although that’s a factor. “It would be easier if we could blame this whole trend on one problem, like guns or obesity or the opioid epidemic, all of which distinguish the U.S. from the other countries,’’ Woolf told USA TODAY. “But we found increases in death rates across 35 causes of death.’’
I think the bigger question is what is it going to take for America for finally start paying attention to what's happening ... and begin to do something about it?