The U.S. Life Expectancy Problem: Unpacking the Causes

The U.S. Life Expectancy Problem: Unpacking the Causes

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), life expectancy in the United States has been falling since 2014. While this is cause for concern, understanding this trend is critical to reversing it. Let’s look at some major factors contributing to this troubling statistic.

by David Stone

Rising Suicide Rates and Drug Overdoses

One of the primary causes of declining life expectancy in the U.S. is an increase in suicide rates and drug overdoses. According to data from the CDC, suicide rates have increased by 33 percent since 1999. Drug overdose deaths have skyrocketed by 140 percent since 2001.

These increases, experts concur, are due to substance abuse issues plaguing communities across America and a lack of access to mental health services.

The Rise in Chronic Diseases

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Another factor in declining life expectancy in the U.S. is a rise in chronic diseases: heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, and hypertension. All of which can lead to premature death if left untreated or unmanaged effectively.

What’s more, these conditions are linked to lifestyle factors such as poor nutrition and physical activity levels. Environmental exposures that many Americans face on a daily basis add to the risks of developing one or more chronic diseases over time.

Inequality Gap Widening and the Decline in U. S. Life Expectancy

Finally, another major contributor to falling life expectancy in the U.S.—and indeed around the world—is widening inequality. A gap widens between those who can afford quality healthcare and those who cannot.

And some cannot afford adequate care or do not have access because they live in rural areas or face other barriers such as language or cultural differences.

All too often, those who do not enjoy equal access to quality healthcare end up suffering worse health outcomes. So, inequality contributes significantly to overall lower life expectancies nationwide.


Several key factors contribute to declining life expectancies throughout America today—but all hope is not lost.

By taking steps such as increasing access to mental health services and improving public education about nutrition and lifestyle habits, we can halt this negative trend before it gets any worse.

We can ensure that the possibility of enjoying long healthy lives is there for all of us.

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