From the Washington Post:
By Lenny Bernstein December 8 at 12:01 AM
For the first time in more than two decades, life expectancy for Americans declined last year  — a troubling development linked to a panoply of worsening health problems in the United States.
Rising fatalities from heart disease and stroke, diabetes, drug overdoses, accidents and other conditions caused the lower life expectancy revealed in a report released Thursday by the National Center for Health Statistics. In all, death rates rose for eight of the top 10 leading causes of death.
“I think we should be very concerned,” said Princeton economist Anne Case, who called for thorough research on the increase in deaths from heart disease, the No. 1 killer in the United States. “This is singular. This doesn’t happen.”
A year ago, research by Case and Angus Deaton, also an economist at Princeton, brought worldwide attention to the unexpected jump in mortality rates among white middle-aged Americans. That trend was blamed on what are sometimes called diseases of despair: overdoses, alcoholism and suicide. The new report raises the possibility that major illnesses may be eroding prospects for an even wider group of Americans.
Its 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.”
Overall, life expectancy fell by one-tenth of a year, from 78.9 in 2014 to 78.8 in 2015, according to the latest data. The last time U.S. life expectancy at birth declined was in 1993, when it dropped from 75.6 to 75.4, according to World Bank data.
1993 had a high death rate due to AIDS, crack, and crack murders.
The overall death rate rose 1.2 percent in 2015, its first uptick since 1999. More than 2.7 million people died, about 45 percent of them from heart disease or cancer. …
The report’s lone bright spot was a drop in the death rate from cancer, probably because fewer people are smoking, the disease is being detected earlier and new treatments have been developed recently, experts said.
… Death rates rose for white men, white women and black men. They stayed essentially even for black women and Hispanic men and women. “It’s just confirming this deterioration in survival for certain groups,” said Ellen Meara, a professor at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice. She wonders what factors might be protecting Hispanic men and women from the negative trend.
An alternative way of looking at is that this is still the White Death, but, perhaps, black men got hit hard by black on black homicide in 2015 due to the Ferguson Effect.
Age-adjusted death rates for selected populations. (CDC/NCHS/HHS/NVSS)
According to the new report, males could expect to live 76.3 years at birth last year, down from 76.5 in 2014. Females could expect to live to 81.2 years, down from 81.3 the previous year.
Life expectancy at age 65 did not fall, another indication that the diseases behind the lower life expectancy occur in middle age or younger.
My look at the White Death data last year suggested that there was sharp worsening of age-adjusted death rates for those born in the early 1950s versus those born in the late 1940s. My guess is that people who turned 18 from the end of the 1960s onward were more at risk of heroin or prescription opioid overdoses than those who turned 18 before “White Rabbit.”
The number of unintentional injuries — which include overdoses from drugs, alcohol and other chemicals, as well as motor vehicle crashes and other accidents — climbed to more than 146,000 in 2015 from slightly more than 136,000 in 2014.
Something is going wrong with car crash deaths. What if all the new electronic safety gizmos on cars are causing accidents? (I have no evidence for that, by the way, but somebody ought to look into it.)
Deaths from suicide, the 10th-leading cause of death in the United States, rose to 44,193 from 42,773 in 2014.
Several experts pointed out that other Western nations are not seeing similar rises in mortality, suggesting an urgency to determine what is unique about health, health care and socioeconomic conditions in the United States.
“Mortality rates in middle age have totally flatlined in the U.S. for people in their 30s and 40s and 50s, or have been increasing,” Case said. “What we really need to do is find out why we have stopped making progress against heart disease. And I don’t have the answer to that.”
Meara noted that more people need better health care but that “the health-care system is only a part of health.” Income inequality, nutrition differences and lingering unemployment all need to be addressed, she said.
Reminiscent of the Yeltsin years in Russia …