The 3 Big Reasons Americans Are Dying Earlier

Despite all of our modern advances, technology, and medical studies, America is not one of the 10 healthiest countries in the world — in fact, our average life expectancy just dropped for the second year in a row. Even as more and more medical breakthroughs are being discovered, Americans seem to be getting sicker.

So why has the U.S., which was once a global leader in the length of life for its citizens, fallen so far? According to research, there are several deadly reasons.

The current life expectancy in the U.S.

A senior stands on the rear deck of a cruise ship

Americans aren’t living as long as other people. | jeffclow/iStock/Getty Images Plus

The new average life expectancy for Americans is 78.7 years, which puts the U.S. behind other developed nations Canada, Germany, Mexico, France, Japan, and the U.K., which have a life expectancy of 80.3 years. But this isn’t because our doctors are failing us or because of some kind of outbreak. The real reasons are (literally) quite sad.

According to experts, there are three main reasons Americans are dying sooner that can be traced back to one general cause.

Next: We’re not saying no to drugs. 

1. Drug overdose

overdose kit

The opioid crisis is having an effect on life expectancy. | John Moore/Getty Images

The opioid crisis is certainly partially to blame for the drop in American life expectancy. Between 2000 and 2014, the rate of fatal drug overdoses rose by 137%. And while opioids aren’t entirely to blame, they have a large impact on addiction and overdoses.

Next: Our alcohol habit is killing us.

2. Alcohol abuse

That drink may hit you harder than you think.

Americans are drinking too much. | Bogdanhoda/Getty images

Abusing alcohol is killing Americans at an alarming rate. Alcohol poisoning kills six people every day, 76% of which are adults ages 35-64. Alcoholism tends to be worse in poor communities where people don’t have a lot of opportunities or hope.

Next: This is the most depressing news of all.

3. Suicide

despaired woman sitting curled up in nature

The suicide rate is rising in America. | iStock.com/AkilinaWinner

As alarming as the opioid epidemic is, it’s just the tip of an iceberg of an even larger public health crisis. Between 1999 and 2014, suicide rates in America rose by 24%. The suicides are disproportionately affecting white Americans, especially adults aged 25-59 years, those with limited education, and women. They tend to happen most in communities with longstanding social and economic challenges.

Next: Americans are sad.

4. The real issue: Despair

A coffin about to be lowered at a funeral service

Has the American dream been replaced with despair? | iStock.com/davidford

While it’s not entirely clear why Americans are dying at higher rates from these factors, given the facts we do have, it seems obvious: Economic hardships and the loss of security held by previous generations have put American adults into a state of despair. The U.S. as a whole is rich, but the wealth is not inclusive. The “American dream” seems more out of reach than ever.

Next: Luckily, there’s good news.

The good news: We can change

Happy senior couple in white on tropical beach

A healthier country means healthier citizens. | dmbaker/iStock/Getty Images

As depressing as these statistics seem, experts are claiming that change is possible, and that the same things that are good for America’s economy can also be good for the country’s health.

“The solutions to dealing with this problem are not very different from the priorities we should have to strengthen the middle class overall,” said Steven Woolf, director of the Center on Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University. “What people in the health field would recommend is improvements in education, employment, and economic opportunities for the low-income and middle-class segments of our population—and those same investments are going to improve economic prosperity and social mobility for much of America; that’s the win-win here.”

Changing our health may be as simple as changing our priorities as a nation.

Next: More good news on the health front.

In some ways, our life expectancy is actually longer

Doctor drawing ecg heartbeat chart

In general, America’s heart health is getting better. | iStock.com/BrianAJackson

While it’s tragic that more middle-aged Americans are dying from despair-related causes, there is some good news: There has been a decrease in mortality from heart disease and cancer, two of our biggest killers. If we can get a handle on our substance abuse problem as a nation, our collective life expectancy should soon be higher, where it belongs.

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