Three reports released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday paint a bleak picture of a country in which people are growing sick, using drugs, and dying young—many of them by their own hand.
American life expectancy is continuing its recent decline, according to the CDC’s latest statistical release. Americans are dying at an average age of 78.6. Though that is roughly the same life expectancy the CDC reported last year, the agency called it a decline of a tenth of a year. The drop has been driven significantly by 70,237 deaths from drug overdoses. For comparison, that number’s nearly equal to the entire population of Bismarck, North Dakota’s capital. In 2016, a fifth of all deaths among Americans aged 24 to 35 were due to opioids.
Health experts typically expect longevity to increase as the economy grows and more health advancements are made, so the fact that life expectancy has been flat or trending downward for years now is concerning.
This data point, says Christopher Murray, the director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, “confirms that there’s a profound change in the trajectory of mortality. This should really be getting everyone’s attention in a major way.” By comparison, life expectancy in Europe in 2016 was 81, but Murray says other high-income countries are also seeing a flattening out of life expectancy, thanks in part to the obesity epidemic.