Life expectancy in the U.S. is projected to decline for a third straight year, according to an analysis of 2017 mortality rates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In particular, the figures show an increase in the death rate for diseases like Alzheimer's, diabetes, flu and pneumonia. They also show rises in the rate of death from drug overdoses, suicides, and firearms, but those numbers are only for the first half of the year. Meantime, the death rate from the nation's number one killer, heart disease, remained largely flat.
The rise in deaths from diseases that are preventable or controllable should serve as a wake-up call, according to Isabel Valdez, physician assistant at Baylor College of Medicine. "It seems like some preventable diseases have been on the rise, including flu, pneumonia and diabetes," she says. "Diabetes, much like heart disease, those two are conditions that once we have them we can control them with diet and medication, but there's also a lot we can do to manage them."
In the case of conditions like flu and pneumonia, Valdez blames falling vaccination rates for the rise in deaths. "Vaccinations are there to protect us, to help our bodies build immunity," she says. "And if we take those measures to protect ourselves with vaccines, we can actually prevent a lot of disease."
There was some good news in the CDC numbers. Deaths from cancer and HIV both declined last year. Further good news is that most of the other numbers can be turned around if people commit to more healthy behaviors, like improved diet and exercise, as well as getting proper vaccinations. "Sometimes there are genetic factors that contribute to why we have diseases," says Valdez. "But there are definitely some measures that we can take into our control, into our hands, to improve our odds and improve our chances of beating some of these preventable diseases."