Life expectancy in US sees biggest decline in more than a century

Reversing decline requires immediate action, systemic change

It is a frightening fact. Far too many Americans are dying before their time. It is born out in the latest life expectancy statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Life expectancy in the U.S. experienced a rapid decline -- the biggest in more than a century. And the challenge is reversing the decline.

In 2021 the CDC reported on average people lived to be 76. That’s down almost three years from its peak.

“I think politics and apathy have gotten in the way of the solutions, but they don’t have to. You know when Florida passed the extreme risk law after the Parkland shootings, shows that politics does not have to get in the way of a sensible policy,” said Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, director of the Bloomberg American Health Initiative. “There are other sensible policies to make sure people can get addiction treatment, to make sure young people have truly confidential health care resources and to address causes of crashes and problems in cities.”

The Bloomberg Health Initiative released a report Tuesday identifying six reasons for the dramatic decline in life expectancy. They include COVID, overdoses, gun-related homicides and suicides; teen suicides; motor vehicle fatalities and heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

“It is pretty staggering when you look at the charts,” said Sharfstein. “It’s not just 2.8 years overall but if you look at Black Americans, it’s more than a four-year decline, for Indigenous Americans, it’s more than a six-year decline, and it erased all gains for decades. So we have a problem, and the good news is it’s not inevitable. We shouldn’t be apathetic and think it’s gonna be politics or it’s always like it here in this country. It hasn’t always been like this. We can reverse the trend. We just have to look at what the evidence is and take some pretty sensible steps in order to protect life.”

The report’s researchers say there are ways to reverse the decline.

“I do think we have the power to reverse the decline. There are a number of sensible steps, very popular steps. We need the will to go forward with them,” Sharfstein said. “There are things that can be done by cities, counties, states that really make a difference, and if we want to have the kind of lives that are long and fruitful, what people really want, then we should be taking actions like these to make a difference.”

The report concludes that if the trend is going to reverse and life expectancy is going to rise again, the devastating decline demands both immediate action and systemic change.

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