Steady declines of U.S. death rate flatten out

Researchers said the still-growing obesity epidemic in the U.S. may be to blame for slowing decreases in the death rate.
By Stephen Feller  |  Oct. 29, 2015 at 11:06 AM
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ATLANTA, Oct. 29 (UPI) -- Although trends for death from many diseases continue to decline, an analysis of death statistics finds overall rates beginning to flatten out, the American Cancer Society reports in a new study.

Lifespans in the United States have grown significantly since 1969, however researchers did not expect to see declines of death from several diseases to slow as they have in the last couple of years.

Researchers at ACS theorize that some of the flattening out, and increases in death effects from other conditions, is tied to the obesity epidemic that has been growing in the United States since the 1980s. Obesity-related diseases such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes have grown significantly because of the increase in its prevalence.

"Further disease-specific studies are needed to investigate these trends," the wrote in the study, published in the Journal of American Medical Association. "Regardless of the changes in death rates, the increasing numbers of old persons in the United States and growth of the U.S. population will pose a considerable challenge for health care delivery in the coming decades, in view of the shortage of primary care physicians and geriatricians, increasing cost of health care, and the lag between healthy life and life expectancies."

Researchers at the American Cancer Society reviewed national mortality data collected between 1969 and 2013 to calculate annual death rates and years of life lost before age 75 for all causes of death.

The age-standardized death rate decreased from 1,279 per 100,000 people in 1969 by 43 percent to 730 per 100,000 in 2013, and five of the six leading causes of death also saw overall declines during the 44-year period: death by stroke decreased by 77 percent; heart disease dropped by 68 percent; death from unintentional injuries went down by 40 percent; cancer deaths decreased 18 percent; and death due to diabetes went down by 17 percent. Deaths due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease increased by 101 percent over the entire study period, however researchers reported the increases appear to have slowed in the last several years.

"I was surprised," Dr. Ahmedin Jemal, the head of surveillance and health services research at the American Cancer Society, told the New York Times. "We were expecting to see more declines."

Many of the previous years' declines are attributed to significant decreases in use of tobacco, which has affected cancer deaths and several of the other leading causes of death because of the myriad ways smoking harms the body.

Slowing decreases in disease-related death, however, may relate to the growing obesity and metabolic syndrome epidemics in the country, researchers said. The epidemic started in the 1980s, however did not start to be addressed aggressively until the last few years.

The researchers also raised concerns about the aging U.S. population and shortage of medical personnel that may negatively effect death rates in the country in the next several years.

"Further disease-specific studies are needed to investigate these trends," the researchers wrote. "Regardless of the changes in death rates, the increasing numbers of old persons in the United States and growth of the U.S. population will pose a considerable challenge for health care delivery in the coming decades, in view of the shortage of primary care physicians and geriatricians, increasing cost of health care, and the lag between healthy life and life expectancies."

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