U.S. Life Expectancy Rises For The First Time In Four Years As Deaths From Drug Overdoses & Cancer Decline

A lady practices yoga on the summit of Mt Eden as the sun struggles to shine through a blanket of fog.
Phil Walter / Getty Images

Reports from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) have found that life expectancy in the United States has risen for the first time in four years, according to CNN.

While the gain was small — life expectancy rose from 78.6 years in 2017 to 78.7 years in 2018 — researchers were able to correlate this increase with a decrease in certain causes of death, such as drug overdoses and cancer.

Drug overdoses fell from 70,237 deaths in 2017 to 67,367 in 2018, a decrease of 4.1 percent. Study author Kenneth Kochanek, a researcher at the NCHS in Maryland, attributed the increase in overall life expectancy to this decrease in drug overdose deaths. He also pointed to the decrease in cancer deaths as another cause.

“That decrease in mortality from drug overdose definitely contributed to the increase in life expectancy. It wasn’t the leading contributor. The leading contributor was cancer. Cancer actually contributed more to that increase in life expectancy. Drug overdose would be second.”

The top 10 leading causes of death in 2018 were the same as in 2017, accounting for 73.8 percent of all deaths in the United States.

  1. Heart disease
  2. Cancer
  3. Unintentional injuries, such as drug overdose deaths and car accidents
  4. Chronic lower respiratory diseases
  5. Stroke
  6. Alzheimer’s disease
  7. Diabetes
  8. Influenza and pneumonia
  9. Kidney disease
  10. Suicide
Nurses in the accident and emergency dept of Selly Oak Hospital work during a busy shift on March 16, 2010 in Birmingham, England.
  Christopher Furlong / Getty Images

Of these 10 leading causes of death, six of them decreased in 2018. These reductions included 0.8 percent for heart disease, 2.8 percent for unintentional injuries, 1.3 percent for stroke, 2.2 percent for cancer, 1.6 percent for Alzheimer’s disease, and 2.9 percent for chronic lower respiratory diseases.

The statistics show that two leading causes of death increased in 2018 — 4.2 percent for influenza and pneumonia and 1.4 percent for suicide.

Another factor that contributed to the increase in life expectancy is the decrease in infant mortality rates. In the U.S., infant death rates decreased from 579 per 100,000 live births in 2017 to about 566 per 100,000 in 2018.

Kochanek believed that the overall decrease in the various leading causes of death is very positive.

Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, the director of the Bloomberg American Health Initiative at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, also found the results of the report promising.

“It shows that progress in health is very much possible.”

He attributed the decrease in certain causes of death to better Medicaid programs across several states and an increase in federal funding for a variety of health services.

“These investments are starting to show some results in some areas, but death rates are still far higher than they were just a few years ago…Our attitude should be that we’re just starting this fight, we have a lot more to do, and we won’t stop until the epidemic has receded.”