2015 Marked First Decline In Life Expectancy in Over 20 Years

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Francesco Acciai PhD Postdoctoral Research Associate Food Policy and Environmental Research Group School of Nutrition and Health Promotion University of Arizona

Dr. Acciai

Francesco Acciai PhD
Postdoctoral Research Associate
Food Policy and Environmental Research Group
School of Nutrition and Health Promotion
Arizona State University

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study?

Response: In 2015 life expectancy at birth (e0) in the United States was lower than it was in 2014. In the previous 30 years, a reduction in life expectancy at the national level had occurred only one time, in 1993, during the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The decrease in life expectancy observed in 2015 is particularly worrisome because it was not generated by an anomalous spike in a specific cause of death (like HIV/AIDS in 1993). Instead, age-adjusted death rates increased for 8 of the 10 leading causes of death—heart disease, chronic lower respiratory diseases, accidents, stroke, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, kidney disease, and suicide, according to the CDC.

MedicalResearch.com: What is the goal of the study?

Response: The overarching goal of the paper is to compare the drivers of the 2015 decline in men’s and women’s life expectancy. First we compare the contributions of the most common and relevant causes of death to the decline in men’s versus women’s life expectancy. Then we investigate the underlying mechanisms that generated the decline for women versus men by distinguishing between changes in cause-specific mean age at death and changes in the cause-specific probability of dying. 

MedicalResearch.com: What are the main findings?

Response: The mean age at death decreased for most causes of death for both men (14 of 20 causes) and women (15 of 20 causes). Although both groups experienced a similar decline in life expectancy (-0.17 years), the mechanisms were quite different. In fact, changes in old-age (age 65+) mortality generated most (78%) of the decline for women, but only 33% of the decline for men. Cause-specific analysis reveals that the major contributor of the decline was heart disease for women and accidental poisoning for men. Detailed cause-specific results are presented in the text (Acciai and Firebaugh, 2017).

MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report?

Response: 2015 marked the first decline in life expectancy in the United States in over two decades. Despite an historical trend of rising life expectancy in the U.S., some scholars had in fact warned of the possibility that this trend might soon be reversed. This line of research so far has mostly focused on obesity and the so called deaths of despair (accidental poisoning, suicide, and chronic liver diseases). However, our study highlights that the increase in mortality that produced the 2015 decline in life expectancy was not limited to one or two causes of death, but was generated by several causes of death that in the previous years had contributed to increase, not decrease, life expectancy.

MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: To gain further insights on the trends and mechanisms of the 2015 decline in life expectancy, future studies should examine race- and gender-specific patterns in more detail. The methods we use here could also be employed to study regional patterns as well as to determine whether the decline affected individuals from different socioeconomic backgrounds differently.

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Why did life expectancy decline in the United States in 2015? A gender-specific analysis
Francesco Acciai, Glenn Firebaugh
Social Science & Medicine
Volume 190, October 2017, Pages 174-180

Note: Content is Not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider regarding your specific medical condition and questions.


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Last Updated on November 16, 2017 by Marie Benz MD FAAD