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Life expectancy in the US is finally on the rise again

Published Jan 30th, 2020 11:44AM EST
us life expectancy
Image: Pius Koller/imageBROKER/REX/Shutterstock

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For several years in a row now, life expectancy in the United States has seen a small but steady decline. This unfortunate trend has been largely blamed on the opioid crisis sweeping the nation, claiming many lives. The overall dip was small but noticeable, and the latest life expectancy report from the CDC suggests that things are slowly starting to turn around.

For the first time since 2014, the overall life expectancy of a person born in the United States went up in 2018, bringing it to 78.7. That’s a modest increase of just 0.1 years, but it’s a sign that some of the measures to combat the opioid crisis may be working.

Changes in life expectancy are typically very small, but for many years the life expectancy of a child born in the United States was steadily increasing. That all changed in 2015, which marked a decline. Life expectancy stayed level in 2016 but then dropped again in 2017. The dramatic downturn was blamed in the spike in deaths linked to drug overdoses and suicides associated with opioid abuse.

An overall increase in life expectancy of just 0.1 years might not seem all that dramatic, but when you consider the side of the population, it’s actually a massive boost. Based on the CDC’s own data, a drop in drug overdose deaths of 4.1% between 2017 and 2018 appears to be a huge factor.

This is all obviously good news, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t still a lot of work to be done. Drug overdose death rates are still up to three times what they were just two decades ago. If health officials and doctors can get those numbers down even further, we’ll likely see steady increases in life expectancy for years to come.