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Researchers blame cardiovascular disease for stalling life expectancies in the U.S.

The team says opioid deaths are not the main cause of stagnant lifespans

Photo (c) wutwhanfoto - Getty Images
The damaging effects of the opioid crisis have been well-documented. New studies frequently show that addiction to this class of drugs can have deadly consequences. However, researchers say that opioids aren’t to blame for stalling life expectancies in the U.S.

A team of researchers from the University of Michigan and the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) say that no-longer-declining cardiovascular disease deaths are the main reason that lifespans are no longer growing.

“While much attention is being directed at drug-related deaths, we demonstrate that the changing trajectory of CVD deaths has been the most consequential cause-specific trend for the post-2010 U.S. life expectancy stall,” the researchers said.

Life expectancies stop growing

From 1970 to 2010, life expectancies in the U.S. had been growing at a consistent rate of around 2 years per decade. The researchers attribute this to advances in surgical techniques and consumers adopting healthier lifestyles; these two factors helped cut CVD deaths in half between 1970 and 2002. 

However, the team says that the decline in cardiovascular deaths stalled in 2010 and led to stagnant life expectancy numbers throughout the next decade. 

The team says that this factor far outweighs the increase in opioid drug-related deaths that occurred over the 2010s. Researcher Mikko Myrskylä projected that life expectancy would only have increased by around five months if drug-related deaths had remained steady throughout the decade.

“Without the aid of CVD mortality declines, future U.S. life expectancy gains must come from other causes -- a monumental task given the enormity of earlier declines in CVD death rates,” the researchers said. “Reversal of the drug overdose epidemic will be beneficial, but insufficient for achieving pre-2010 pace of life expectancy growth.” 

The full study has been published in PNAS.

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