New research has revealed that life expectancy in the US is rising for the first time in four years.
The research was conducted by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics and showed that life expectancy at birth rose by a tenth of year. In relative terms, this shows an increase from 78.6 to 78.7 years which does on the surface appear to be a fairly insignificant movement, but when this is applied to millions of people, it becomes quite a noticeable shift.
The upwards shift in life expectancy has also sparked interested as when this is compared to the past three years, we find that two of these years actually experienced decline in life expectancy. Some experts have stated that the drop in 2017 appeared to be related to a period where drug overdose-related deaths were soaring. According to the CDC Injury Center, the age-adjusted rate of overdose deaths increased by 9.6% from 2016 to 2017 and so this decline in fatal overdoses is a first for the country since 1990. This suggests that positive steps have been taken with regards to the awareness, prevention and management of drug addiction and abuse.
It has been suggested that the decline in life expectancy is not only fuelled by a drop in ‘accidental’ deaths, but also by falling mortality rates in cancer sufferers, primarily influenced by improvements in awareness, diagnosis and treatment. There is also wide acceptance that a global crackdown on smoking has also contributed to better health outcomes generally, with declines reported in heart disease, cancer and chronic respiratory diseases for age-adjusted deaths.
Sadly, the data does suggest that deaths from suicide are continuing to rise, and 2018 had the highest rate seen since 1941. Mental health continues to remain a major health concern across the globe, and these figures suggest that despite greater awareness, much more needs to be done to help those struggling with their mental health to seek help and support before it gets too much for them to cope with.
Interestingly, there appears to have been a rise in cases of Alzheimers and dementia, but industry experts have concluded that this could simply be because people who have survived other causes of death may just be eventually developing this condition as they age.
According to researchers, infant mortality rates are usually seen as a fairly accurate indicator of the overall population health, and there was a decline in infant deaths over the period. This figure doesn’t mean that there are fewer unpreventable deaths occurring, as there will always be conditions and situations which cannot be avoided, even with the best preparation, medical skills or standards of care. Instead, this relates to those deaths which should have been prevented and shows an improvement in the overall quality of care and procedures associated with birth and infant care.
Such revelations are always interesting and often help us to feel a little less anxious about what may lie ahead for us in the future. But as many have pointed out, we all have to die from something, and reducing the chances of one cause just means there will be another cause instead. Some have also raised the question as to whether a longer life actually means a better life, particularly if the later years are plagued with ill-health or suffering.
There have been major advancements in the identification of genes which may increase the chances of developing a certain illness or disease, some of which have provided valuable lifelines for people, such as the identification of the BRCA1 gene and its association with breast cancer. Other more generic tests, including many home-testing kits have alluded to their ability to show if the patient has a higher than average risk of suffering from a variety of conditions including dementia and Alzheimers. However, such tests have come under scrutiny as it has been revealed that different brands deliver conflicting results when compared against each other. In addition, there is the more ethical question of what value it brings to know what you may or may not suffer from in the years to come, particularly if it prevents you from embarking on important life decisions such as starting a family.
What is clear is that such research is always useful for assessing the current state of health in the country, and can often be used to drive forward important changes in policies and provisions to improve the availability of healthcare for the general population. But the specific details of such research are always likely to raise more questions and challenges. A longer life is certainly something that most of us would wish for, but equal emphasis should be placed on the quality of life. Living for the moment is the best way to ensure you live a happy and fulfilling life, no matter what may lie ahead.