Life Expectancy In US Has Declined For Second-Straight Year

Wisconsin Part Of Downward Trend; Opioid Epidemic A Big Factor In Deaths

Emergency Room Sign
Jason Redmond/AP Photo

For the second year in a row, life expectancy in the United States has declined. The downward trend is largely due to an increase in opioid deaths.

The most recent Wisconsin estimates from 2014 show residents living to age 79. Pat Remington, associate dean for public health at University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, said the change in life expectancy is a disturbing trend.

“Life expectancy had been going up for the past 100 years,” Remington said. “And the last couple of years, that average life expectancy at birth has plateaued and then more recently has gone down.”

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According to federal data released on Thursday, age specific death rates between 2015-16 increased for younger groups and decreased for older groups. This trend is also happening in Wisconsin.

Age specific death rates between 2015-16 for Wisconsin residents age 20 and 65. Wisconsin Department of Health Services

“The real change of life expectancy is for those in their earlier years. Life expectancy for people 65 and older continues to grow slightly,” said Remington. “What we’ve seen is a dramatic increase in injury-related mortality particularly due to opioid overdoses and accidental poisoning with this increase in death of young people that can greatly influence the overall life expectancy,” he said.

A Wisconsin Life Expectancy report released last year showed those in Kewaunee County were expected to live the longest, to age 82. Those in Menominee County had the lowest life expectancy, age 72.5

Remington said the changes in life expectancy are incremental, so you won’t see a significant change from the state’s older numbers and the more recent 2016 federal statistics which put life expectancy at age 78.6.

“Life expectancy although a good overall measure doesn’t change that quickly from year to year, maybe a tenth-of-a-year, a month or two of life expectancy,” Remington said. “So we would expect to see very comparable data … This is not like the Dow Jones Industrial that changes minute by minute during the day. These are numbers that have long projectories.”

The last time the U.S. life expectancy dropped was in 1993 because of the AIDS epidemic. Life expectancy hasn’t fallen two years in a row in the U.S. since the early 1960s.