For the first time in nearly 20 years, the life expectancy in the U.S. has decreased, according to a Dec. 8 report by the National Center for Health Statistics.
Life expectancy fell from 78.9 in 2014 to 78.8 in 2015, The Washington Post reports. A decrease in U.S. life expectancy hasn't occurred since 1993, when it dropped from 75.6 to 75.4, according to World Bank data.
"This is a big deal," says Philip Morgan, a demographer at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill who was not involved in the new analysis, according to NPR. "There's not a better indicator of well-being than life expectancy. The fact that it's leveling off in the U.S. is a striking finding."
Deaths from heart disease, the two leading cause of death in the U.S., increased in number, going from 167 deaths per 100,000 people to 168.5, according to The Washington Post.
“This is unusual, and we don’t know what happened,” said Jiaquan Xu, an epidemiologist and lead author of the study, reported the Washington Post. “So many leading causes of death increased.”
Heart disease took more than 633,000 lives in 2015, up from approximately 614,000 in 2014.
Of the 10 most common causes of death, nine saw increases between 2014 and 2015. Only cancer, the second-leading cause of death, saw a decrease, from 161.2 per 100,000 people to 158.5.
“I think we should be very concerned,” Princeton economist Anne Case said. “This is singular. This doesn’t happen.”
Although the report sounds grim, the numbers might not necessarily be a part of a trend, and more data is needed to reach a firmer conclusion about the state of the nation's life expectancy.
"We'll have to see what happens in the second half of 2016," said.Robert Anderson, chief of the mortality statistics branch at the National Center for Health Statistics, according to NPR.