(CN) – More Americans are dying while still in the prime working years of the lives, according to a study published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The study, one of the most comprehensive modern examinations of mortality rates across the United States, reports that Americans between the ages of 25 and 64 are dying at younger ages more frequently than in living memory. The study found that America’s life expectancy has been trending downward for several years and that as more Americans die during these working-age years, overall mortality rates continue to worsen.
Steven Woolf, director emeritus of the VCU Center on Society and Health and lead author of the study, says the consequences of these troubling mortality rate trends among working-age adults are likely to be numerous and severe.
“Working-age Americans are more likely to die in the prime of their lives. For employers, this means that their workforce is dying prematurely, impacting the U.S. economy. More importantly, this trend means that children are losing their parents and our children are destined to live shorter lives than us,” Woolf said with the release of the study.
Researchers say there are several likely explanations for drop in life expectancy. The study reports that one likely suspect is America’s struggle with prescription drug overdose deaths, a problem that has only deepened since the 1990s. As prescription opioid abuse continues to plague Americans across the county – leading to what many experts call an opioid epidemic – more working-age Americans risk tragic overdose-related deaths.
Data suggest that America’s obesity problem is also a likely contributor to the hike in working-age death rates.
“The obesity epidemic, a known contributor to the U.S. health disadvantage, could potentially explain an increase in midlife mortality rates for diseases linked to obesity, such as hypertensive heart disease and renal failure,” the study says.
Researchers even suggest America’s health care apparatus may play a role in this problem. The study reports that with many adults struggling to maintain consistent and reliable access to health care, as well as continually dealing with rising medical treatment costs, Americans find it more challenging to treat their medical needs.
The study notes other developed countries with better life expectancy statistics have advanced their health care systems beyond what the United States currently offers.
“Although the U.S. health care system excels on certain measures, countries with higher life expectancy outperform the United States in providing universal access to health care, removing costs as a barrier to care, care coordination, and amenable mortality,” the study states.
Woolf said people should use this information as further evidence that self-care and well-being need to be a top priority.
“For everyday Americans, the important priority is to look after their health. This includes the usual elements of a healthy lifestyle – regular exercise, a healthy diet, not smoking, etc. – and getting preventive services, such as vaccinations, mammograms, and other recommended screening tests,” Woolf said in an email. “The opioid epidemic, and an increase in deaths from alcoholism and suicides, make it especially important for people to care for their emotional well-being and to seek help for depression, despair, or addiction.”
Researchers found some demographics have seen even sharper spikes in working-age death rates. Northern New England and the Ohio Valley states of Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio and Pennsylvania have seen their life expectancy rates drop the most significantly in the past decade. The study also reports women and adults without a high school diploma are also among those hardest hit by death at working age.
Woolf said the biggest lesson to be learned from this study is how vital it is for working-age Americans to enact the positive changes needed to turn the nation’s life expectancy numbers around – including at the ballot box.
“However, the larger takeaway of our study – that the root causes of all these health problems may reflect our living conditions and inadequate investment in education, jobs, economic opportunities for the middle class, and long-neglected communities – calls on individual Americans to express their vote to elect officials who will enact appropriate policies,” Woolf said.