For the first time in decades, nationwide life expectancy in the US fell in 2015, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Infants born in 2015 are expected to live on average to age 78.8 — a decline of 0.1 year from 2014. A decline in nationwide life expectancy at birth hasn’t happened in the US since 1993.
Earlier this year, the CDC reported that life expectancy among white Americans fell from 2013 to 2014, but at that time the average across all races was still on the rise.
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The latest life expectancy data — which the CDC hasn’t yet broken down by race — add a new sense of urgency to those previous reports.
Men’s life expectancy fell from 76.5 to 76.3 years, while women’s fell from 81.3 to 81.2 years.
Death rates for both black and white men rose in 2015 by about 1 percent, and they rose 1.6 percent among white women.
CDC researcher Dr. Jiaquan Xu, the report’s lead author, cited the opioid epidemic as a significant factor.
“The last time there was a similar increase in mortality was in 1993,” he said. “At that time we had a combination of a bad flu year, and there was HIV and AIDS, along with homicides and accidents.”
Today, Xu added, “We’re seeing so many more preventable causes of death, and they’re significantly affecting mortality negatively.”
He specifically pointed to unintentional deaths: “Motor vehicle accidents have gone up 6 percent. And accidental poisoning increased 13 percent. And 97 percent of accidental poisoning was from drug overdoses and alcohol.
“What’s really significant is that these things are happening more to people of younger ages,” Xu added. Earlier deaths have a much starker effect on life expectancy estimates.
Meanwhile, the death rate for black women, Hispanic women, and Hispanic men remained unchanged from 2014 to 2015.