Dropping life expectancy in U.S. may be ‘disturbing new normal’

Life expectancy in the U.S. is dropping, driven largely by drug overdoses, suicides, alcohol-related illnesses and obesity, according to a new study.

Although life expectancy had been increasing steadily since 1959, it plateaued at 78.9 years in 2010, then began to reverse, dropping to 78.6 by 2017, according to a November 26, 2019 CNN article.

The study found that the largest increase in mortality rates (6%) was among adults aged 25-64, and that the Ohio Valley and northern New England saw the largest relative increases in deaths.

Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health Leadership at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, co-authored an editorial accompanying the study. “We can’t always assume an increase in life expectancy year in and year out, and the nation risks a future where this may be a disturbing new normal,” he told CNN.

Koh noted that the study shows “a whole constellation of conditions” impacting life expectancy. “It is not just medical conditions, but also the social drivers that appear to be at play, like income inequality and mental distress,” he said.

Koh said he sees some hopeful signs, such as more workplace health programs and greater awareness that housing and transportation can impact health. More collaboration among sectors will be important to reverse the downward life expectancy trend, he said.

John Park, a doctoral student in global health at Harvard Chan School, was a co-author of the editorial.

Read the CNN article: US life expectancy is still on the decline. Here’s why

Read an NBC News article: Dying too young: Deaths among middle-aged adults reversing life expectancy trends