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Explaining recent mortality trends among younger and middle-aged White Americans

19 Jul 2017

AbstractBackgroundRecent research has suggested that increases in mortality among middle-aged US Whites are being driven by suicides and poisonings from alcohol and drug use. Increases in these ‘despair’ deaths have been argued to reflect a cohort-based epidemic of pain and distress among middle-aged US Whites.MethodsWe examine trends in all-cause and cause-specific mortality rates among younger and middle-aged US White men and women between 1980 and 2014, using official US mortality data. We estimate trends in cause-specific mortality from suicides, alcohol-related deaths, drug-related deaths, ‘metabolic diseases’ (i.e. deaths from heart diseases, diabetes, obesity and/or hypertension), and residual deaths from extrinsic causes (i.e. causes external to the body). We examine variation in mortality trends by gender, age and cause of death, and decompose trends into period- and cohort-based variation.ResultsTrends in middle-aged US White mortality vary considerably by cause and gender. The relative contribution to overall mortality rates from drug-related deaths has increased dramatically since the early 1990s, but the contributions from suicide and alcohol-related deaths have remained stable. Rising mortality from drug-related deaths exhibit strong period-based patterns. Declines in deaths from metabolic diseases have slowed for middle-aged White men and have stalled for middle-aged White women, and exhibit strong cohort-based patterns.ConclusionsWe find little empirical support for the pain- and distress-based explanations for rising mortality in the US White population. Instead, recent mortality increases among younger and middle-aged US White men and women have likely been shaped by the US opiate epidemic and an expanding obesogenic environment.

Click here to view the full article which appeared in International Journal of Epidemiology