Sep 9, 2020 - Health

The drivers of life expectancy improvements

a life raft with red crosses on it
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Progress in treating heart disease, cancer and stroke were helping to drive the improvement in Americans' life expectancy before the opioid crisis sent it tumbling, according to a new study in Health Affairs.

By the numbers: From 1990 to 2015, Americans' average life expectancy rose by 3.3 years. The study attributes 1.76 years of that improvement to reduced mortality from heart disease, 0.34 years from lung cancer and 0.33 years to improved care for stroke.

Between the lines: This is what's supposed to happen — advancements in care and better public-health awareness are supposed to help life expectancy tick up every year.

  • In the years just after this study cuts off, though — beginning in 2015 — American life expectancy declined for four years in a row, for the first time in decades, because of the opioid epidemic.
  • It began to rebound again in 2018, according to CDC data.
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