Though people in industrialized countries are generally living longer and better lives, one group isn’t going with the healthy flow.
From 1998 to 2013, mortality rates of white, non-Hispanic Americans aged 45 to 54 rose by half a percent per year, researchers report in the . The trend is in stark contrast to other groups, which continued to see declines during the time frame.
The researchers estimate that if mortality rates of middle-aged white Americans held steady at the 1998 level, 96,000 people would still be alive. If the death rate had continued to decline, as other populations’ did, 488,500 people would still be alive.
Spikes in suicide and drug and alcohol poisoning fueled the rising mortality rate, according to researchers. In 2011, such poisonings caused more deaths in this group than lung cancer, a leading cause of death. And suicide is poised to do the same, the authors report. Though middle-aged white people of all education levels saw increases in deaths from suicide and overdoses, those with the least education suffered the most.
It’s unclear what’s driving more middle-aged white Americans to suicide and overdoses. But researchers speculate that the recent financial crisis, the introduction of addictive opioid painkillers, and the obesity epidemic may have played a part.
A serious concern, the authors report, is that middle-aged white people may be in worse health than the elderly. “Those currently in midlife may be a ‘lost generation,’ whose future is less bright than those who preceded them,” they write.