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U.S. Life Expectancy Declines

Life expectancy in the U.S. started falling even before the global pandemic—and it’s continuing to decline, according to The Washington Post (subscription).

What’s going on: According to a yearlong investigation by the Post, “[a]fter decades of progress, life expectancy—long regarded as a singular benchmark of a nation’s success—peaked in 2014 [in the U.S.] at 78.9 years, then drifted downward even before the coronavirus pandemic. Among wealthy nations, the United States in recent decades went from the middle of the pack to being an outlier. And it continues to fall further and further behind.”

  • While the opioid crisis and gun violence are contributing to the rising death toll, heart disease and cancer have remained the leading cause of death among people aged 35 to 64.
  • Meanwhile, diabetes and liver disease are becoming more common killers.

A worrisome increase: “In a quarter of the nation’s counties, mostly in the South and Midwest, working-age people are dying at a higher rate than 40 years ago, The Post found.”

  • The trend is exacerbated by economic divisions. In the early 1980s, the nation’s poorest people were 9% more likely to die than their wealthier counterparts. Today, they are 61% more likely to die.

What we can do: “Medical science could help turn things around. Diabetes patients are benefiting from new drugs, called GLP-1 agonists . . . that provide improved blood-sugar control and can lead to a sharp reduction in weight. But insurance companies, slow to see obesity as a disease, often decline to pay for the drugs for people who do not have diabetes.”

  • The FDA has approved several such drugs so far, including Novo Nordisk’s Ozempic and Wegovy and Eli Lilly’s Mounjaro.
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