American Life Expectancy Drops For First Time Since the 1990s

It probably won’t be long until people on the left start blaming this on global warming or Donald Trump—or both—but the National Center for Health Statistics has released a report indicating that life expectancy in the U.S. has dropped for the first time in decades. The article announcing this news on NPR doesn’t quite seem to know whether this is a big deal or not.

So the news out of the federal government Thursday is disturbing: The overall U.S. death rate has increased for the first time in a decade, according to an analysis of the latest data. And that led to a drop in overall life expectancy for the first time since 1993, particularly among people younger than 65.

“This is a big deal,” says Philip Morgan, a demographer at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill who was not involved in the new analysis.

“There’s not a better indicator of well-being than life expectancy,” he says. “The fact that it’s leveling off in the U.S. is a striking finding.”

It’s striking, but maybe not such a big deal.

Now, there’s a chance that the latest data, from 2015, could be just a one-time blip. In fact, a preliminary analysis from the first two quarters of 2016 suggests that may be the case, says Robert Anderson, chief of the mortality statistics branch at the National Center for Health Statistics, which released the new report.

Don’t get too worried about it. The drop is on the order of a month or two.

The obesity epidemic could be playing a role in the increase in deaths from heart disease, strokes, diabetes and possibly Alzheimer’s. It could also be that doctors have reached the limit of what they can do to fight heart disease with current treatments.

Maybe fewer people are going to the doctor because they can’t afford the skyrocketing costs of Obamacare? It’s interesting that the radical changes in the cost of health insurance don’t figure into the analysis. Maybe it’s not a contributing factor but it seems like something that ought to be considered. Maybe

“Clearly, that could be related to the economic circumstances that many Americans have experienced in the last eight years, or so, since the recession,” says Irma Elo, a sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania.

This sort of story is where the media always injects the false comparison between the U.S. and other countries.

Whatever the cause, the trend is concerning, especially when the death rate is continuing to drop and life expectancy is still on the rise in most other industrialized countries.

Other industrialized countries calculate such statistics differently and have more homogeneous populations. The United States’ ethnic diversity figures in to our average life expectancy significantly, with some ethnic groups being more prone to certain health issues.

It looks like the author at NPR decided to end on a down note

“It’s pretty grim,” says Anne Case, an economist at Princeton University studying the relationship between economics and health.

I guess it’s a big deal again.