US life expectancy has decreased for the second year in a row, and an editorial in the BMJ points to three contributing factors: drugs, alcohol and suicides, particularly among middle-age white Americans and those living in rural communities. Life expectancy in 2017 has not yet been calculated. Numerous premature deaths that have contributed to this decrease have occurred in mostly white, rural American communities that are struggling with unemployment and poverty.
The report complements one released in December from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that also found USA life expectancy was down for the second straight year. Americans' life expectancy plateaued in 2012, and now is headed in the opposite direction. The idea of the "American Dream" is increasingly out of reach as social mobility declines and fewer children face a better future than their parents, he said. Drug overdoses are a big reason why. "It may not sound like much, but the alarming story is not the amount of the decrease but that the increase has ended [in life expectancy]". Compared to gains made by other developed countries, however, the United States began to lose ground in the 1980s.
"The U.S.is rich, but its wealth is not inclusive", the editorial states.
Life expectancy in the U.S.is now 1.5 years lower than a group of 35 nations known as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which includes Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom among others.
In 2013, Woolf and his co-author Laudan Aron, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute, published a study that found that Americans have poorer health in many areas-including birth outcomes, injuries, homicides, adolescent pregnancies, HIV/AIDS rates, obesity, diabetes and heart disease-when compared to other high-income countries. Americans also engage in unhealthy or risky behaviors - such as high calorie intake, drug abuse and firearm ownership - live in cities designed for cars rather than pedestrians or cyclists, have weaker social welfare supports and lack universal health insurance. "The consequences are dire: not only more deaths and illness but also escalating health care costs, a sicker workforce, and a less competitive economy".
The rate of fatal drug overdoses rose by 137% between 2000 and 2014, driven by the epidemic in opioid use.
The Los Angeles Times reported that the study said the nation's opioid crisis, which claimed 64,000 lives in 2015, could not be blamed alone for the fall.
The study said alcohol and suicides have also been rising, with the suicide rate climbing 24 percent between 1999 and 2014 - an increase affecting mainly white Americans, persons with limited education and women.
As for what to do about it, he said that "the root causes argue for policy solutions, especially those directed at strengthening the middle class that are not getting sufficiently prioritized by elected officials".