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Middle-Aged White Americans Are Dying More Than They Should Be

HuffPost logo HuffPost 11/3/2015 Nick Visser

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Middle-aged white Americans are dying at increasing rates and half a million people are dead who should not be, according to a new report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study, co-authored by Anne Case and Angus Deaton, analyzed death rates for men and women aged 45 to 54 in the United States, a range often categorized as "middle-age." The duo, both economics professors at Princeton, then compared the data to those death rates found within other domestic racial categories and those seen in similarly wealthy nations.

Black, Hispanic and older Americans (65 and up) have continued to see longer lives, as have those in Sweden, Australia, Germany and other rich nations, but middle-aged white Americans have not. The results represented a "marked increase" in mortality between 1999 and 2013, and the trends seem to "reverse decades of progress in mortality and was unique to the United States."

Those with less education were also more likely to die in middle age due to suicide or alcohol and drug poisoning, the authors note.

Man at Sea Side Holding Bottle of Beer, Mid Section Credit: Peter Hince/Getty Images © Credit: Peter Hince/Getty Images Man at Sea Side Holding Bottle of Beer, Mid Section Credit: Peter Hince/Getty Images The study links the increase in mortality to a slew of problematic issues seen throughout American society, including an increase in drug and alcohol abuse and an increase in suicide rates. White men had the highest suicide rate of any demographic in 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The authors also draw a stark link between a rise in opioid availability, including the growing problem of cheap heroin. They theorize that an uptick in "the epidemic of pain, suicide and drug overdoses" may be tied to 2008's financial crisis, and say many baby-boomers are among the first to live a harsher life than their parents.

The Washington Post notes such a large increase in mortality seen in a particular group within a developed nation is exceedingly rare. Although there were higher death rates of Russian men after the collapse of the Soviet Union, by and large, people have been leading longer lives since the 1970s.

The authors say that if America had seen a constant rate of increased longevity like other nations, some 500,000 people would still be alive. Others, facing an increase in illnesses like cirrhosis of the liver, will "age into Medicare in worse health than the current elderly," which could put a hefty strain on an already overburdened system.

The Huffington Post has reached out to the study's authors for comment.

If you -- or someone you know -- need help, please call  1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If you are outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of international resources.


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