A startling study released Monday showed that mortality rates for white Americans between the ages of 45 and 54 have increased dramatically in the past few years while longevity rates for other groups have continued to climb.
The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, doesn’t point to conditions such as cancer or heart disease as the cause for the increase, instead it says mental health issues and addictions to drugs and alcohol look to be the determining factors in shortening lifespans.
According to the study co-authored by husband and wife Princeton economics professors Angus Deaton and Anne Case, those in the age group who are white and have less than a high school education have seen the sharpest decline in longevity.
Older Americans, the study noted, are leading increasingly longer lives as are blacks and Hispanics who are considered middle-aged.
Case and Deaton say their results show a “marked increase” in mortality in the white middle-aged group with an epidemic of suicide as a leading cause. The study also points to cheap and easily available heroin, the abuse of prescription opioids and the effects of long-term alcohol abuse, as factors contributing to the group's increasing mortality rate.
“Drugs and alcohol, and suicide . . . are clearly the proximate cause,” Deaton, the 2015 Nobel laureate in economics, told The Washington Post.
Deaton and Case said some 500,000 people would likely be alive today if the mortality rate had not been on the increase.
“Half a million people are dead who should not be dead,” Deaton said. “About 40 times the Ebola stats. You’re getting up there with HIV-AIDS.”
According to The Post story, the pair discovered the increase in the rates as they were researching government statistics on death rates and illnesses.
“We both were sort of blown off our chairs when looking at that,” Deaton said.