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Life Expectancy in America Declining According to Latest Study

A study published in the journal JAMA has highlighted some reasons behind the latest news that life expectancy in the United States has started decreasing, despite having been on the increase for several years.

The study discovered that Americans between the ages of 25 and 64, or “working age,” are dying younger due to a combination of suicide, hypertension, and drug abuse as well as over 30 more different causes.

It has also been discovered that other wealthy countries around the world have a longer life expectancy to those in the US, which appears to be declining at a dramatic rate. And with working age adults seeing the biggest increase in deaths Steven H. Woolf of Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine believes it is a “distinctly American phenomenon.”

Woolf, who is co-author of the study alongside Heidi Schoomaker, explained that “death rates among working age adults are on the rise. We have known for years that the health of Americans is inferior to that of other wealthy nations, but our research shows that the decline in US health relative to other countries began as early as the 1980s.”

Both Woolf and Schoomaker looked at over 50 years worth of US life expectancy data with the results appearing to show that although life expectancy began to rise annually between 1959 and 2014, these figures stabilized around 2011 before declining again.

And America’s relationship with opioid abuse seems to be one of the main reasons, along with suicide and alcohol abuse, especially among young and middle aged adults. The figures increased amongst those who did not finish high school.

Strangely, the decline in life expectancy was higher in areas including Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont – all in New England, while those living in the “Ohio Valley” – Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Indiana – were also affected.

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The rise of the opioid epidemic appears to be one of the main reasons in these areas, especially since the collapse of the manufacturing industries that were a strong source of income in the regions. In fact, since 2010 over one third of “excess deaths” were reported from the Ohio Valley states since.

However those living along the Pacific coast – Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington – saw their life expectancy increase during 2010 and 2017.

The authors of the report claims that data from previous years shows that Americans began to slip behind those in other countries as far back as the early 1980s.

“Historically this [period] was the beginning of the opioid epidemic, the shrinking of the middle class and the widening of income inequality,” Woolf said.

And although there were economic shifts around the world as a whole during this time, Woolf believes the lack of support experienced by struggling families contributed to the drop in America stating that “in other countries, families that fall on hard times have programs and services available to cushion the blow. In America, people often have to fend for themselves.”

With few social services to help families it may help us to understand why there was a larger increase in death among females as they “have even fewer support systems, and more childcare responsibilities.”

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Howard Koh commented on the study, saying that although the “most exhaustive and detailed analysis of this topic to date” has helped us find the main causes of death the citizens of America should start “embracing the leading causes of life.”

For instance, by looking at how social connections alongside strong communities are affecting our wellbeing.

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“Other countries spend relatively more in terms of social services. Health is much more than what happens in a doctor’s office. It starts where people live, learn, labor and pray.”

So what can we do to improve our life expectancy? Harvard Medical School has a few suggestions and while most of them are both obvious and easier to do, some may have you asking why!

For instance, we all know that smoking, excessive drinking and drug abuse will seriously damage our health but did you know that people who have quit smoking could repair some of the damage caused by cigarettes, cigars and even marijuana?

Once you stop smoking your risk of heart disease starts to reduce after only a few months, matching that of a non-smoker after around 5 years. Likewise with strokes. Giving up tobacco can see a reduction in the risk of having a stroke within two to four years while the mortality rate from colorectal cancer also reduces each year.

And while these statistics apply to most people, quitting smoking before you reach 50 will make the health benefits stronger, sooner.

There have also been discussions on the dangers of vaping, with many calling for the fruit flavored options to be banned.

A healthy diet, keeping fit and building a good network around you are also key to keeping you healthy and strong and therefore living longer.

By doing these things we can hopefully turn the trend on the average American’s life span before we are in “a future in which declining life expectancy may be the new norm.”