In 1918, the double whammy of World War I and the worldwide flu pandemic drove down American life expectancy for a third year in a row. A century later, another triple-year decline has been recorded—and this time, suicide and drug overdoses are major causes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's annual report, US life expectancy dropped to 78 years and 7 months in 2017, down around a month from the year before, the AP reports. Men could expect to live 76.1 years, and women 81.1. Public health experts called the statistics alarming, noting that early deaths among middle-aged people did the most to bring life expectancy down. After 22 years of steady rises, life expectancy dropped in 2015 and again in 2016, though it will need to drop a lot more to reach the level of 1918, when life expectancy was 39.
"These sobering statistics are a wake-up call that we are losing too many Americans, too early and too often, to conditions that are preventable," CDC Director Robert Redfield said in a statement. Another CDC report found that the number of drug overdose deaths rose almost 6,600 in 2017 to 70,237, CNN reports. The suicide rate rose to its highest in at least 50 years, with rates much higher in rural counties than in urban ones. Another factor was a harsh flu season. Experts say they find it worrying that in the US, life expectancy is going in a different direction than in most developed nations. "Life expectancy is improving in many places in the world. It shouldn’t be declining in the United States," Joshua Sharfstein at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health tells the Washington Post. (A recent study predicted that by 2040, there will be 63 countries with higher life expectancy than the US.)