A recent study published on Tuesday, October 27, has revealed the mortality rate trends for major illnesses nowadays, and its findings are actually disconcerting.
While mortality rates, which represent the number of deaths per 100,000 individuals across a year, have been declining in the last decades, it appears that in recent years they have been flattening instead.
Analysts from the American Cancer Society have been reviewing national vital statistics data ever since 1969, and until 2010 they had witnessed major gains in life spans across the United States, probably as a result of more advanced medical technology, superior health care and more effective disease management.
However, between 2010 and 2013, mortality rates have only been reduced by around 0.4% every year, this value being so low that it can’t even be considered statistically significant.
Researchers have been speculating regarding the potential cause of this new trend, and one possible explanation is the lingering effect of the obesity epidemic, which has been blighting the United States population ever since the 1980’s.
While this leveling off has only been going on in the last few years, and it’s too early to say if this is an actual trend or just a momentary slowdown, researchers admit that the findings were indeed unexpected.
Even though it’s not the first time that temporary pauses have been identified in the increase of life expectancy (one notable example being the HIV epidemic of the 1990’s), such occurrences are still rare.
During a period of 44 years, ever since these studies were first conducted, mortality rates have decreased by around 42.9%, and similar trends were experienced when it came to the 6 leading causes of death as well, with a notable exception being chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
For example, stroke has been causing 77% fewer premature deaths and 67.5% fewer people have been dying early as a result of heart disease. Also, death rates resulting from cancer, diabetes and unintentional injuries have also declined by 17.9%, 16.5% and 39.8% respectively.
However, in the last few years even the number of deaths provoked by individual ailments such as diabetes, stroke and heart disease hasn’t been on an obvious downward slope.
These conditions can frequently develop in conjunction with obesity, making scientists even more convinced that this could be the valid explanation.
Other researchers, such as S. Jay Olshansky, public-health professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, blame cigarette smoking for this newly-discovered stagnation when it comes to mortality rates.
The 43 carcinogenic compounds encountered in cigarettes, alongside 400 other toxins cause irreversible damage, which might not be initially obvious.
Sometimes, it takes decades for smoking to actually result in death, so its effects are similar to obesity, because they are often delayed and insidious. In fact, death rates associated with COPD, which is primarily caused by cigarette smoking, have been increasing by 100.6% since 1969.
Another theory is that there isn’t enough room for further improvement nowadays, since now numerous people take cholesterol-regulating statins, which had restarted the gains in life spans back in the 2000’s.
Mortality rates have been leveling off especially among females, and in fact a study published in 2012 has shown that white women without high school education have a lower life expectancy than before.
Even more worryingly, researchers believe that life spans will be even more severely affected in the future, as the population ages, and obesity and Alzheimer’s disease become more prevalent.
As a result, they urge individuals to take preventive measures, such as reducing alcohol consumption, quitting smoking, as well as maintaining a healthier lifestyle, by keeping a healthy diet and exercising regularly.
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