The US death rate rose for the first time in a decade last year, according to preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC report also shows an increase in death rates from suicide, drug overdoses and Alzheimer’s disease, possible indicators of failing public health initiatives. Experts warned, however, that it is too soon to tell what caused the unusual jump in the overall death rate.
“What we’re aiming for with public health policy is decreases in mortality, and it’s clear from this report that that’s not what we’re seeing,” said Colleen Barry, an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Preliminary data shows that the death rate increased to 729.5 deaths per 100,000 people in 2015 from 723.2 deaths in 2014.
But the CDC’s report did not include demographic information like race, age or sex – though that information will be available later this year. Without more population-specific information, scientists cannot determine trends from the data.
But the information does show what is killing Americans.
The number of Alzheimer’s disease-related deaths moved up from 25.4 deaths per 100,000 people to 29.2 last year. Drug overdoses killed 15.3 out of 100,000 people in a 12-month period ending in the second quarter of 2015, compared with 14.2 in that same period in 2014.
And suicide rates in 2015 were 13.1 per 100,000 people, compared with 12.7 in 2014.
Barry said the increase in suicide deaths is indicative of the country’s broken mental health system. “By many measures, we have more of an ability to help individuals who are dealing with mental illness in their lives and suicidal thoughts, yet we see a persistent lack of robust treatment infrastructure in this country,” she said.
And though death rates increased for suicide and drug overdoses, these kinds of deaths are still rare compared with heart disease and cancer, the two leading causes of death in the US.
Until the government releases more information on death rates, scientists are waiting to draw conclusions from the data. Barry said: “These numbers are important to track aggregate change over time but they are not particularly actionable.”
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