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Life Expectancy on the Decline: Working-Age Americans May Not Make it to Retirement


A new study shows life expectancy is on the decline for most working-age Americans. Those between the ages of 25 and 64 are now less likely to reach the age of retirement than at any point in recent history. For many of us, this news may come as a bit of a shock. We’re used to going to work every day, collecting a paycheck, and saving up for retirement, but reaching the age of retirement may not be as attainable as we once thought.

As a healthcare provider, discover what’s causing this trend and how you can help your patients live a long, healthy life.

Understanding the Results of the Study

We may like to assume that recent medical advances are helping us live longer, healthier lives, but as this new study confirms, that’s not always the case. The study was conducted by Dr. Steven Woolf and Dr. Heidi Schoomaker. They collected life expectancy data from the U.S. Mortality Database and cause-specific mortality rates from the CDC WONDER database.

According to their findings, U.S. life expectancy increased from 69.9 years to 78.9 years from 1959 to 2016, but rates have declined over the last three consecutive years. This trend seems to have started in the 1980s and 90s and has only gotten progressively worse over time. From 2010 to 2017, midlife all-cause mortality rates increased from 328.5 deaths per 100,000 people to 348.2 deaths per 100,000 people.

Decreasing life expectancy rates seem to be related to a wide variety of diseases, illnesses, and other health concerns. By 2014, midlife mortality was increasing across all racial groups. Many of these deaths seem to have been caused by drug overdoses, alcohol abuse, suicides, and a diverse list of organ system diseases. Overall, researchers pointed to 35 conditions and diseases that were responsible for this trend, including liver and heart disease, cancer, and stroke.

What’s Causing the Decline?

As shocking as the results of this study may seem, the results tend to vary by geographic location. New England and the Midwest seem to have been affected the most by these trends. According to the report, the largest relative increases in midlife mortality rates occurred in New Hampshire (23.3%), Maine (20.7%), Vermont (19.9%), and the Ohio Valley, including West Virginia (23.0%), Ohio (21.6%), Indiana (14.8%), and Kentucky (14.7%). The increase in midlife mortality during 2010-2017 was associated with an estimated 33,307 excess U.S. deaths, or those associated with a temporary increase in the mortality rate. Of these additional 33,307 deaths, a whopping 32.8% occurred in these four Ohio Valley states alone.

Researchers have tied their findings to recent national trends, including the rise of globalization and the decline of American manufacturing. Once known as the Rust Belt of America, the Ohio Valley has changed radically over the last few decades. With more factories and jobs moving overseas or turning to automation, many of these individuals have been forced to find new ways of making ends meet. Crippling economic stress, increased substance abuse, and depression may all play a role.

Here are a few examples of how the health of the nation has changed over the last few years:

  • Fatal drug overdoses for people in midlife increased 386.5% between 1999 and 2017.
  • Midlife mortality rates related to obesity have increased 114%.
  • Deaths due to hypertension for people in midlife increased by 78.9%.
  • Mortality rates linked to alcohol-related problems, such as chronic liver disease and cirrhosis, increased 40.6%.
  • For those between the ages of 25 and 34, the rate of alcohol-related disease deaths increased by 157.6%.
  • Suicide rates increased by 38.3% for people ages 25 to 64, and by 55.9% for people ages 55 to 64.

How You Can Help

Healthcare providers should adjust their assumptions about working-age life in America. While you may think of middle-aged patients as relatively healthy, this may no longer be the case. To help your patients live a long, healthy life, keep an eye out for some of the issues and concerns mentioned above.

Encourage working-age patients to schedule regular appointments with their healthcare provider. They should also sign up for regular screenings to make sure they are disease-free.

If one of your patients has recently lost their job or is having trouble making ends meet, encourage them to see a mental health professional. Be aware of how your patient’s feelings and stress can increase their risk of substance abuse, drug overdose, and suicide.

Do not assume your patients are healthy based on their age. Remember that these trends are on the rise for all working-age Americans, regardless of age, race, or gender.

Studies show around 80% of adults don’t meet physical activity guidelines and 71% are overweight. Talk to your patients about the importance of physical activity and maintaining a balanced diet.

The healthcare community also needs to instill these values in children, so future generations can reverse these trends by living longer, healthier lives. Many children learn about health from their parents. Younger generations may be doomed to repeat these trends if we don’t intervene in the meantime. Keep this information in mind as you talk to your patients about their health.


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