U.S. Life Expectancy Just Dropped for the First Time in More Than Two Decades

Photograph by Buero Monaco—via Getty Images

For the first time since 1993, Americans’ life expectancy has actually decreased, according to a new analysis by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

The life expectancy of U.S. residents in 2015 declined by 0.1 years to 78.8. That may not seem like a whole lot. But it’s notable since it’s the first such drop noted in more than two decades, and Americans’ life expectancy is already lower than that of other developed nations like Canada, France, and Germany.


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What’s more concerning is the apparent reason behind Americans’ reduced longevity. Death rates ballooned for almost every one of the top 10 causes of death compared to 2014.


Centers for Disease Control
Centers for Disease Control

The lone bright light? Cancer. “The only decrease in age-adjusted death rates among the 10 leading causes of death was for cancer,” wrote the CDC. “The [death] rate increased 0.9% for heart disease, 2.7% for chronic lower respiratory diseases, 6.7% for unintentional injuries, 3.0% for stroke, 15.7% for Alzheimer’s disease, 1.9% for diabetes, 1.5% for kidney disease, and 2.3% for suicide. The rate decreased by 1.7% for cancer. The rate for influenza and pneumonia did not change significantly.”

This is just one year’s worth of epidemiological data, so the figures may shift going forward. But the analysis carries some sobering warning signs, including for the biopharmaceutical industry.

The falling rate of cancer-related deaths is clearly an impressive achievement, and may be partially attributable to drug makers’ increased focus on developing novel new therapies to fight cancers.

But the fact that Alzheimer’s and heart disease-related deaths continue to spike highlights the reality that progress on those conditions may have hit a wall. The staggering 16% reported increase in Alzheimer’s deaths may actually be a consequence of Americans living longer over the past 20 years and a lack of effective therapies—experimental or otherwise—to actually treat the condition.

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