U.S. life expectancy has decreased for the second year in a row, and an editorial in theBMJ points to three contributing factors: drugs, alcohol and suicides, particularly among middle-age white Americans and those living in rural communities. The authors of the paper paint a bleak picture of the problems facing much of the United States today, but the authors say that policies that bolster the middle-class can help reverse the trend.
The recent drop in life expectancy is alarming, the editorial states, “because life expectancy has risen for much of the past century in developed countries, including in the U.S.” Compared to gains made by other developed countries, however, the United States began to lose ground in the 1980s. Americans’ life expectancy plateaued in 2012, and now is headed in the opposite direction.
“Something is amiss in the health of Americans, and the country, on a population level, is sick and dying earlier,” says the editorial’s lead author, Steven Woolf, director of the Center on Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University. “Quite simply, it means that babies born today are likely to live a shorter life than those born a year or two ago.”