Americans’ life expectancy dips as middle-aged see uptick in death rates

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Enlarge / Volunteers walk among headstones before placing wreaths at the 2015 National Wreaths Across America event at Arlington National Cemetery December 12, 2015 in Arlington, VA. More than 50,000 volunteers helped to place remembrance wreaths on 230,000 gravestones at Arlington on Saturday. AFP PHOTO/MOLLY RILEY / AFP / MOLLY RILEY (Photo credit should read MOLLY RILEY/AFP/Getty Images) (credit: Getty | MOLLY RILEY)

For the first time since 1993, the life expectancy of Americans declined in 2015, dropping from 78.9 years in 2014 to 78.8 years, according to newly released government data. The death rate rose by 1.2 percent.

The single-year decline in life expectancy does not a trend make—it could just be a blip—but the breakdown of the data indicates trouble for middle-aged white people and black men, possibly linked to nationwide trends in obesity and opioid abuse, plus socioeconomic conditions.

That speculation is backed up by research from last year, which found rises in the death rate of middle-aged whites due in part to spikes in suicides, drug overdoses, and alcohol poisoning. At the time, researchers speculated that a blend of health problems, poor healthcare, and despair over unemployment and the financial crisis could be driving up deaths.

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