- The US life expectancy rose for the first time in four years, the CDC reported Thursday.
- Life expectancy had been declining or stable in large part due to the opioid crisis.
- The news is an encouraging reflection of improvements in cancer treatments and of efforts to curb the opioid crisis, but cancer remains a leading cause of death and the crisis is far from over.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Babies born in 2018 are predicted to live, on average, one month longer than those born in 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced on Thursday.
Baby boys born in 2018 are expected to live an average of 76 years and 2 months, and baby girls should live, on average, 81 years and 1 month.
Though slight, the increase is significant because US life expectancy has been either declining or holding steady for the past four years. Historically, life expectancy tracks upward a few months month each year.
The news is an encouraging sign that improvements in cancer treatments and efforts to curb the opioid crisis have paid off, experts say.
So while cancer remains a leading cause of death and the opioid crisis is ongoing, “the fact that we have seen the first year where there’s not an additional increase [in opioid-related deaths] is encouraging,” Katherine Keyes, a Columbia University researcher, told AP.
Cancer and opioid-related deaths are down
The news follows a report out of the American Cancer Society earlier this month finding that cancer deaths rates were declining faster, with the death rate dropping 2.2% between 2016 and 2017, the most recent year data was available. The year before, the rate was approximately 1.5%.
“That is largely driven by declines in smoking, but also because of improvements in treatment for some cancers like melanoma,” study author Rebecca Siegel previously told Insider. “There’s also earlier detection for several cancers, like breast and colorectal cancer.”
The latest CDC report also reflects declines in opioid-related deaths, which surged between 2014 and 2017. In fact, there were 70,237 deaths from drug overdoses in 2017 alone, which was a 9.6% increase from the year prior, the CDC said.
But in 2018, the death rate fell 4%, according to the report, mostly due to a reduction in deaths from heroin and prescription painkillers. (Deaths from fentanyl, cocaine, and meth, however, went up.)
The overall decline was mostly driven by the states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and West Virginia, which were hardest-hit by the opioid crisis.
The infant mortality rate also declined 2.3% between 2017 and 2018, the CDC reported.
The 10 leading causes of death have remained the same
While the latest news is heartening, Americans are still dying at high rates of mostly preventable diseases.
“We should still we concerned about things that will reverse this trend, like obesity and vaping,” Stan Gerson, director of the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center, previously told Insider in regards to the decline in cancer deaths specifically.
The 10 leading causes of death are still heart disease, cancer, unintentional injuries, chronic lower respiratory diseases, stroke, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, influenza and pneumonia, kidney disease, and suicide.
And while there were fewer cancer and opioid deaths in 2018 than in 2017, there were more deaths from suicide and the flu. In fact, the suicide death rate was the highest since 1941, or about 14 per 100,000, which has been trending up since 2000.
The rise in teen males suicides is particularly troubling. While some people have speculated that it’s due to the constant pressure to be online, social media, and bullying, researchers have found financial stress, child poverty, and unemployment are all predictive of future suicide.
“It started the year of the financial crisis, and we think kids just feel a tremendous pressure to succeed in school to get scholarships,” public policy researcher Dan Romer previously told Insider. “They know they need to go to college but they can’t afford it.”