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The 3 reasons more Americans are dying in greater numbers

Posted June 7

For more than a decade, the death rate in America has been falling, in part because of fewer deaths from cancer and heart disease. Now, it may be rising again because of Alzheimer's disease, drug overdoses and suicide, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

The death rate — the number of Americans who die out of every 100,000 people — is tracked by the federal agency each year. The report released June 1 represented initial findings for 2015, and the full report won't be out until December, so the latest figures could turn out to be a statistical blip, The Washington Post reported.

But the numbers may also confirm recent research that has shown an uptick in the death rate among middle-age white Americans, women in particular.

“When we’re spending $3 trillion in health care, and we’re seeing mortality rise — even if this is only a momentary rise — we need to examine what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. Clearly we're doing something wrong," Ellen Meara, professor of health policy and clinical practice at Dartmouth College, told Joel Achenbach of the Post.

In 1950, the U.S. death rate was 1,446 per 100,000 Americans. It had fallen to half that, 723, in 2014, thanks to improved infant mortality and other medical triumphs, the Post said. But preliminary numbers for 2015 put it back at 729.5.

The findings surprised researchers, The New York Times said, because it's become unusual for the death rate to rise for a whole population. Moreover, "Many countries in Europe are witnessing declines in mortality, so the gap between the U.S. and other countries is growing," CDC researcher Andrew Fenelon told Sabrina Tavernise of the Times.

Although cancer rates continue to decline, and deaths from heart disease increased only slightly, they remain the two biggest killers of Americans, according to the CDC.

But deaths from Alzheimer's disease are increasing as the baby boomers age, and last year, deaths from drug overdoses surpassed car accidents as the leading cause of accidental death in the U.S.

Suicides have also risen, especially among women ages 45 to 64.

Suicide is at its highest level in decades, according to a recent report in Time magazine. (And it's not only increasing in middle-age women, but adolescent girls.) The increases have accelerated since 2006, leading some analysts to speculate that they are linked to the economic downturn.

EMAIL: jgraham@deseretnews.com

TWITTER: @grahamtoday

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