'A distinctly American phenomenon': Our workforce is dying faster than any other wealthy country, study shows


A new study in the journal of the American medical association tests the assumptions some people have about life in America the research finds that working age Americans are less likely to live to retirement age than any time in recent history Dr Steven Wolff is the report's lead author he's director emeritus of the center on society in health at Virginia Commonwealth University thank you for being here as a pleasure I just wish it was for better reasons yeah I mean if these numbers are pretty alarming you what you were looking at life expectancy mortality across the United States between nineteen fifty nine and twenty seventeen telling what you found well what we found is that since two thousand ten all cause mortality that means the chances of dying before eight sixty five have been increasing in the United States and for the past three years life expectancy has been decreasing it's a it's a quite alarming recent trend but our study shows that it's been decades in the making starting back in the nineteen eighties is this happening in in other wealthy countries or is this a distinctly US thing that's the thing in this this does appear to be a distinctly American phenomenon there's some element of this happening a little bit in the UK and Canada but nothing on the scale of the United States life expectancy continues to climb in other wealthy nations so what are the factors here what do you think is happening well we did a pretty detailed analysis to peel back the onion and try to understand this the trend in life expectancy is being caused as you said by increased mortality and working age Americans from age twenty five to sixty four and the leading contributors to that is is the drug addiction problem drug overdoses are a major factor in explaining this trend however we also found increases in deaths from alcoholism from suicides in from dozens of organ diseases all told thirty five causes of death where mortality rates had increased in this age group so you did that's the age group abroad age group as you start to to look into to different parts of that age group I mean who exactly is this affecting the most well it's affecting everyone both young adults and middle aged adults but I guess the more alarming piece of this is the large increase in young adults we saw twenty nine percent increase in mortality among adults twenty five to thirty four and Hansen the data that even younger Americans late teens early twenties those numbers are beginning to creep up is there a geographic element to this there is exactly in fact our analysis intentionally looked at the data for all fifty states to try to locate where in the country this was happening the most and what we found was that the increase was largest in the industrial Midwest central appellation in northern New England but particularly in the Ohio valley that was like ground zero for this phenomenon we found for example that of all the excess deaths that occur in the United States due to this increase in mortality one third of them occurred in four states Ohio Pennsylvania Kentucky and Indiana those four states accounted for one third of the excess deaths between two thousand ten and two thousand seventeen why those four states do thing well that's something that researchers like myself continue to need to tease out but one very attractive explanation is the economy this is the rust belt and and the area where at the time when this decline began the nineteen eighties and nineties is when we saw a major transformation in the economy the loss of manufacturing jobs coal mines closing steel mills closing and families and communities exposed to many years of economic stresses and we think they're taking their toll on on folks health I mean I mentioned some of the assumptions that that some make about life in in America and you know I mean I think about the medical advances we've made it look like when you started looking at these numbers how surprised were you were you and your team well this is not a new subject for us so we were entirely surprised by the trend we were concerned about the scale of it the pervasiveness of it and how it's cutting across all racial and ethnic groups affecting basically all geographic settings large cities suburbs and and rural America can be reversed I think it can but we need to change our policy priorities in this country and focus more on improving the social and economic conditions for the middle class if were going to see a reversal to this trend otherwise our children are destined to you to live younger

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