BEACON TRANSCRIPT – This year’s reports show the average annual death rates in the U.S. have stopped the declining trend for the first time since scientists begun measuring them in the late 1960s. Based on federal mortality data, researchers from the American Cancer Society analyzed the longevity tendencies between 1969 and 2013.
Death rates – the number of deaths per 100,000 people in a certain year – in the U.S. have followed a downward direction for decades as a direct effect of disease management, improvements in health care, and advancements in medical technology. Naturally, researchers expected to find it continue over the past years as well.
But instead, the new developments have raised some concerns; from 2010 to 2013, the declines in death rates stagnated and even dropped by an average of just 0.4 percent annually. At first, the rate was so slight that it had no statistical value, but the trend accelerated, researchers said.
Published in JAMA, the analysis is the first to assess the most recent federal data, but it’s not necessarily an explanation of the broader trends, but an observational study. However, researchers do have a potential theory for the cause of the slowdown – the obesity epidemic which started in the 1980s is now taking its toll on the population.
However, Report author Dr. Ahmedin Jemal, the head of health services research at the American Cancer Society, warned that it’s too soon to tell whether the finding marks a new trend in death rates, seeing that the slowdown has taken place just over the past four years. He said much longer periods are needed for the assessment of long-term mortality trends.
Even so, researchers were caught off guard by the discoveries, surprised to see a flattening instead of the regular declines. But compared to the 1960s, American life spans have seen a dramatic lengthening, mostly because the advances in medical care and technology which started driving down death rates.
This wouldn’t be the first time the pace of improvement has temporarily slowed; back in the 1990s, the trends saw a similar trend when the H.I.V. epidemic started raging. Once new medicines for high cholesterol had become prevalent on the market in the 2000s, the rates picked back up.
Occasional stagnations in death rates have various potential explanations. According to S. Jay Olshansky, a public health professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, smoking didn’t show up in death rates until decades later, mostly in the form of lung cancer, and obesity is expected to have a similarly delayed effect.
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