Life expectancy for Americans dropped again, and experts can't point to any one cause

U.S. life expectancy dropped again in 2017, CDC says
(Image credit: Screenshot/YouTube/AP)

The life expectancy for Americans dropped again last year, a record number of Americans died, and the suicide rate hit a 50-year high, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said in a series of reports Thursday. Public health experts can't point to any one factor for the 70,000 more deaths in 2017 — for a record 2.8 million deaths total — but the rise in suicide and drug overdose deaths, plus an uptick in fatal flu and pneumonia cases, helped explain the grim news.

The drop in life expectancy — children born in 2017 were expected to live to 78.6, from 78.7 years in 2016 — combined with similar annual declines since 2014, put the U.S. in the longest slide in life expectancy since 1915-1918, a period that included World War I and the deadlines flu pandemic in modern history. "I think this is a very dismal picture of health in the United States," Joshua Sharfstein, a vice dean at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told The Washington Post. "Life expectancy is improving in many places in the world. It shouldn't be declining in the United States."

Dr. William Dietz, a disease prevention expert at George Washington University, said he sees a correlation between rising deaths and falling hope tied to financial struggles and divisive politics. "I really do believe that people are increasingly hopeless, and that that leads to drug use, it leads potentially to suicide," he told The Associated Press.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

Among the CDC's new 2017 statistics, fatal drug overdoses hit a new record of 70,237, including 47,600 deaths from opioids, a six-fold increase over 1999; West Virginia once more had the highest overdose rate. There were also more than 47,000 suicides, up from just under 45,000 in 2016. The suicide rate in rural counties was twice as high as in urban counties, the CDC said, a disparity experts said was fueled by greater access to firearms in rural areas. You can read more about the rise in suicides at USA Today.

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.