By Cole Perry
HIBBING — For the first time in more than two decades, life expectancy has dropped in the United States.
A new study on mortality rates released by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) showed that Americans could expect to live for 78.8 years in 2015, a decrease of 0.1 from the year before.
For males, life expectancy changed from 76.5 years in 2014 to 76.3 years in 2015 — a decrease of 0.2 years.
For females, life expectancy changed from 81.3 years in 2014 to 81.2 years in 2015 — a decrease of 0.1 years.
Although life expectancy has decreased for Americans, the leading causes of death have stayed the same.
According to the World Bank’s findings on global life expectancy, the United States falls behind Hong Kong (84 years), Japan (83 years), Spain (82 years), Italy (82 years), Australia (82 years), and the United Kingdom (81 years).
In the Hibbing area, life expectancy is projected at 77.13 years by the most recent health status report prepared by St. Louis County. That’s over a full year less than the national average.
St. Louis County also found that residents in the Hibbing area are expected to live 4.63 years less than Ely residents and 7.5 years less than Duluth residents.
The report notes that mining may be a factor.
“Mining is one of the major industries in this area which has a number of well-known associated health risks, including shift work and lung disease that may negatively impact life expectancy,” reads the St. Louis County report.
Nationwide, the 10 leading causes of death in 2015 were heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory diseases, unintentional injuries, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, influenza and pneumonia, kidney disease and suicide, according to the NCHS.These leading causes accounted for 74.2 percent of all deaths in the United States in 2015.
The NCHS reports that although heart disease and cancer are still the leading causes of adult male and female mortality, there has been an uptick in diabetes, Alzheimer’s and stroke.
Of those three, Alzheimer’s saw the largest increase as a leading cause of death, growing over 15.7 percent last year.
For Stephen Waring, senior research scientist at the Essentia Institute of Rural Health, Alzheimer’s has become one of the primary health burdens in our region and the country.
“I think one of the biggest health problems already having a profound personal, public and economic impact is Alzheimer’s,” Waring said. “And with the baby boomer effect just starting to contribute to already staggering numbers, this will be a tremendous burden for health care systems, communities and public health.”
Estimates vary, but the NCHS suggests that up to 5.1 million Americans aged 65 years and older have Alzheimer’s disease. These numbers are predicted to more than double by 2050 unless more effective ways to treat and prevent Alzheimer’s disease are found, the NCHS found.