Americans' Life Expectancy Is Down for the First Time in Decades

This could be a sign of a serious problem for the United States.

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For the first time in more than 20 years, the life expectancy of both men and women in America has dropped, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. The overall life expectancy in 2015 was 78.8 years, compared to 78.9 years in 2014.

Both men and women experienced similar (if small) dips. For men, life expectancy was 76.3 years in 2015, which is down from 76.5 years in 2014. And for women, life expectancy was 81.2 years in 2015, which is down from 81.3 years in 2014. The difference in life expectancy between men and women stayed consistent.

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Overall, this most recent dip means that Americans are dying a little more than a month earlier than they were previously — or two months earlier if you just look at men. Death rates rose for white men, white women, and black men, but stayed the same for black women, Hispanic women, and Hispanic men.

The last time life expectancy fell in the United States was in 1993, during the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis. Before that, life expectancy last fell in 1980, when there was a severe flu outbreak, according to BBC News. This time, there was no major outbreak to blame.

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The 10 leading causes of death stayed the same as in 2014, but eight out of those 10 causes saw upticks in 2015. For example, the age-related death rate from heart disease rose 0.9 percent, which is still a lot because heart disease is the No. 1 killer of Americans. Alzheimer's deaths rose by 15.7 percent, and deaths from unintentional injuries rose 6.7 percent. (The Washington Post notes that you shouldn't be too spooked about the Alzheimer's spike, though, because that likely comes from more people simply reporting it.) The only leading cause of death to see a decrease was cancer, which is the second highest cause of death.

The Wall Street Journal reports that these new statistics might be a result of the obesity epidemic. Obesity leads to increases in hypertension, diabetes, and other heart problems, which could now be contributing to a shorter life expectancy. "We're reaping what we've sown," Donald Lloyd-Jones, head of preventive medicine at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, told the newspaper. "It's a clear causal chain."

According to NPR, unintentional injuries might also be up because of the prescription painkiller and heroin epidemics.

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