For the first time in a decade, the US death rate increased in 2015. According to preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control, the death rate in 2015 was 729.5 deaths per 100,000 people, which was up from 723.2 in 2014.
Federal researchers cautioned it was too early to tell what had pushed up the overall national death rate (preliminary data is not broken down by race, and final data will not be out until later this year), but they said the rise was real. While it is premature to ring an alarm now, if it continues, it could be a signal of distress in the health of the nation the NYT reports.
"It's an uptick in mortality and that doesn't usually happen, so it's significant. But the question is, what does it mean? We really need more data to know. If we start looking at 2016 and we see another rise, we'll be a lot more concerned" said Robert Anderson, the chief of mortality statistics at the National Center for Health Statistics.
Andrew Fenelon, a researcher at the C.D.C who did not work on the paper says that the current rise was surprising, and that the gap between the US and other countries is now growing.
"We are not accustomed to seeing death rates increase on a national scale. We've seen increases in mortality for some age groups, but it is quite rare to see it for the whole population. Many countries in Europe are witnessing declines in mortality, so the gap between the US and other countries is growing."
Last year, a paper by Anne Case and Angus Deaton documented the rising death rates among middle-age white Americans, particularly those with no more than a high school education, and other research has found rising rates among younger whites according to the NYT.
"This is probably heavily influenced by Whites. It does sort of fit together." said Sam Harper, an epidemiologist at McGill University in Montreal. More conclusive evidence on that theory will have to wait until the final data is released later this year which will provide more details of the research.
Chronic diseases like cancer and heart disease take by far the most American lives, so any change in other causes can have a big effect on the final numbers. Also, the fact that the rate of death from heart disease increased in 2015 no longer offset the rise in drug deaths, bringing that category more to the forefront.
Here are the other death categories from the NYT
The death rate from heart disease stood at 167.1 in 2015, up from 166.7 in 2014, though the rise was not statistically significant. It was the first time since 1993 that the rate did not decline, Dr. Anderson said.
The death rate from suicides rose to 13.1 in the third quarter of 2015, from 12.7 in the same quarter of 2014. (The last quarter of 2015 data was not yet available for suicides.)
The same was true for drug overdoses, whose data the report had for only the first two quarters of 2015. The death rate for overdoses rose to 15.2 in the second quarter of 2015, compared with 14.1 in the same quarter of 2014. The rate for so-called unintentional injuries, which include drug overdoses and car accidents, rose to 42 in the third quarter of 2015, up from 39.9 in the same quarter of 2014.
The rate for Alzheimer’s disease was also up, rising to 29.2 in 2015, compared with 25.4 in 2014, the continuation of some years of increases. Dr. Anderson said that part of the rise was more precise reporting of Alzheimer’s on death certificates, but that overall dementia-related deaths had increased over time.
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While this is quite a stunning development for a first world country, what also sadly stands out is such an increase in the death rate for overdoses. We can't help but wonder if things are so great out there in this economy, why are more and more turning to drugs to escape reality.
Overdose deaths 2003-2014 per the NYT (click the picture to enlarge)
2014 by itself