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White Women's Life Expectancy Drops

White Women's Life Expectancy Drops

After decades of steady increases, a new set of data suggests an alarming reason for the decline.

For decades, Americans’ life expectancy has been trending steadily upward. But among whites, at least, that progress appears to have stalled—and may be turning the wrong way for women. According to new data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the life expectancy of white, non-Hispanic females dropped slightly, from 81.2 to 81.1 years between 2013 and 2014—equaling about a month of shortened lifespan. This marks the first drop in this major demographic since records have been kept. 

While life expectancy for non-Hispanic white males was unchanged (76.5 years), other racial groups fared better: For men, the greatest increase was experienced by non-Hispanic black males (0.4 years) and Hispanic males (0.1). Hispanic females’ life expectancy increased from 83.8 to 84.0 years, while non-Hispanic black females remained unchanged (78.1).

This shift comes despite declining death rates from some of the major causes of mortality in the US, including heart disease, cancer and stroke. So what’s impacting whites’ life expectancy? Increases in suicide, alcohol and drug abuse and liver disease appear to play a large part.

Increases in suicide
In another finding, the CDC found that the suicide rate reached the highest levels in the US in nearly 30 years. Data covering 1999 to 2014 found that increases touched nearly every age group. Among middle-aged women between the ages of 45 and 64, the rate surged by 63 percent.

“Because the big two causes of mortality—heart disease and cancer—are going down, it will make the other causes go up by contrast,” says Keith Roach, MD, chief medical officer at Sharecare. “We’re seeing an absolute increase in suicide and drug abuse.” 

The role of depression and despair
“These numbers are a huge step in the wrong direction,” says Roach. “We all need to be more open about depression because it’s killing us. It’s not just suicide, but alcoholism, liver disease, heart disease and drug abuse.”

The RealAge Test is one way to get early clues that stress and depression may be adversely affecting your health. Sharing your test findings with your doctor could be a first step toward treatment. “There’s still a stigma about depression, but we have effective treatment, and it’s not only medication,” says Roach. “Cognitive behavioral therapy and psychotherapy—getting people to talk and open up—are other options.” It’s time, Roach says, for people, doctors and society as a whole to take the signs and symptoms of depression seriously.

Medically reviewed in February 2019.

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