Thursday, August 11, 2016

The U.S. Death Rate Increased in 2015

The death rate per 100,000 people in the U.S., also called the mortality rate, increased in 2015 for the first time in years, even when adjusted for age. The increase was slight but unusual; in a healthy society, death rates generally decline as a result of better nutrition and health care. So what happened in 2015?

For years, there has been a slow upward trend in the death rate among middle-aged whites, due to increases in drug- and alcohol-related deaths (see this blog, Dec. 13, 2015). Suicides have also been on the rise. In the past, these increases in deaths were more than offset by declines in deaths from specific diseases, such as heart disease and some cancers. But in 2015 the death rate from heart disease stopped declining. As a result, for the first time in a long time the overall death rate in the U.S. increased in 2015.

It would be unusual if this were the start of a new long-term trend in the U.S., for most developed and developing nations are still reporting annual declines in mortality. A long-term trend toward increases in mortality in the U.S. would be a worrying sign of a decline in overall societal health. Perhaps it will focus our attention on the rising death rate due drugs, alcohol, and suicides. Might many of these deaths be preventable?

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