Small Gain in Life Expectancy Breaks 4-Year Fall
by Charles Bankhead/Senior Editor/MedPage Today
For the first time in four years, Americans were living longer in 2018, according to reports from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).
Life expectancy for a person born at the end of 2018 was 78.7 years, as compared with 78.6 at the end of 2017. Men and women alike had a 0.1-year increase, bringing life expectancy to 76.2 years for men and 81.2 for women. From 2014 to 2017, life expectancy — overall and in men and women — declined by 0.3 years.
Despite the increase, life expectancy remained below the peak of 78.9 years observed at the end of 2014.
The small increase last year brought life expectancy back to the same level seen in 2010, reflecting a state of stagnation.
“The change in life expectancy can be separated into positive and negative contributions to specific causes of deaths,” Kenneth D. Kochanek, MA, Robert N. Anderson, PhD, and Elizabeth Arias, Ph.D., of the NCHS Division of Vital Statistics, wrote in Health E-Stats.
Unintentional deaths, particularly drug overdoses, accounted for half of the decline in life expectancy from 2014 to 2017. The decrease could have been even greater but was offset by a 63.4% improvement in cancer survival and smaller improvements for heart disease and influenza/pneumonia. Unintentional deaths increased by 52.5% and 40.1% in men and women, respectively, and were offset by a 65.3% decrease in cancer mortality among men and a 62.7% decrease among women.
Declining cancer mortality also drove the increase in life expectancy from 2017 to 2018, accounting for 30.2% of positive contributions, the authors continued. Deaths associated with unintentional injuries and chronic lower respiratory diseases also declined, accounting for 25.4% and 9.3% of positive contributions, respectively. On the other hand, increased mortality associated with influenza/pneumonia (27.4%), suicide (12.3%), and nutritional deficiencies (10.5%) led the negative contributors to life expectancy.
Among men, the increase in life expectancy from 2017 to 2018 included decreased mortality from unintentional injuries (32.9%) and cancer (30.8%) and increases for influenza/pneumonia (24.4%) and suicide (11.%). The 0.1-year rise in life expectancy for women was driven by decreased mortality from cancer (27.9%) and unintentional injuries (16.1%), and the primary negative contributors resulting in the small improvement were influenza/pneumonia (28.3%) and nutritional deficiencies (15.2%).
With regard to specific causes of death, mortality declined from 2017 to 2018 for the seven top causes of death (per 100,000 population):
- Heart disease: 165.0 to 163.6
- Cancer: 152.5 to 149.1
- Unintentional injuries: 49.4 to 48.0
- Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 40.9 to 39.7
- Stroke: 37.6 to 37.1
- Alzheimer’s disease: 31.0 to 30.5
- Diabetes: 21.5 to 21.4
Deaths attributable to influenza and pneumonia (No. 8 on the list) increased from 14.3 to 14.9/100,000, deaths from kidney disease (No. 9) decreased (13.0 to 12.9), and deaths by suicide increased (14.0 to 14.2).
Primary Source: National Center for Health Statistics