Death rates for young American adults rise due to overdoses, traffic accidents

The increase marks the biggest increase since 1918, where deaths rose by 30 percent due to the Spanish Flu pandemic.

Hannah Nightingale Washington DC

In 2020, nearly 19 percent more Americans died in 2020 versus the previous year, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data released weekly, despite overall deaths significantly declining since the early 1900s through modern medical breakthroughs and safety additions.

The increase marks the biggest increase since 1918, where deaths rose by 30 percent due to the Spanish Flu pandemic. Looking at different age groups though, reveals a different story, according to Bloomberg.

Americans 65 and older have seen steady declines, even during the 1918 pandemic, which disproportionately affected younger adults. This age group was hit hardest by the current pandemic, with charts showing a sharp increase in 2020, and is expected to continue as the fallout from the pandemic settles.

Americans aged 55-64 saw a similar decrease, deviating slightly with an increase in mortality in the last decade. Ages 45 through 64 overall continued the same trends as older Americans though with a steady decline.

Young children also decreased significantly over the last century. Infant deaths decreased significantly, falling to the middle of the pack in terms of deaths.

Ages 1-to-14 also declined significantly as well, falling to the lowest deaths per age category. The age group, unlike infants, was affected greatly by the 1918 pandemic.

The story changes when looking at older teens and young adults.

Those aged 15-to-44 have seen fluctuating mortality rates since the 1950s, deviating from all other age groups that have seen steady decreases over the years. The age group’s mortality rate for the COVID-19 pandemic "pales in comparison" to the 1918 pandemic, according to Bloomberg.

"In March, a National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine committee summed up their findings in a report titled 'High and Rising Mortality Rates Among Working-Age Adults.' Advances in overall life expectancy stalled in the US after 2010 even while continuing in other wealthy countries, the committee summed up, attributing this mainly to (1) rising mortality due to external causes such as drugs, alcohol and suicide among those aged 25 through 64 and (2) a slowing in declines in deaths from internal causes, chiefly cardiovascular diseases," wrote Bloomberg.

From 2010 to 2019, adults aged 25 through 34, saw a 25.2 percent increase on deaths, far worse than any other age group during the same timeframe.

In 2020, the same age group experienced a 24.5 percent increase, adding up to a 55.8 percent increase since 2010.

Despite the age group not being as prone to health afflictions like heart disease or cancer, which are leading killers in America, the age group is far more likely to die from accidents, suicides, and homicides.

According to CDC data, a spike in deaths seen in the age group during the 1960s were caused mainly by vehicle accidents and homicides. In the 1980s and early 1990s, the HIV/AIDS pandemic was the largest driver.

The recent spike, according to the CDC, has been driven mainly by drug overdoses. From 2013, deaths related to fentanyl and synthetic opioid had disproportionately affected the 25-34 age group.

"As of June 16, 20,131 additional deaths from overdoses had been reported, a 31.3% increase over the same period in 2019, and 5,018 from homicides, a 28.8% increase. Reported suicides fell by 1,362, or 3.1%, but that drop gets a little smaller each week as the numbers are updated. In a year that was stressful for all us, those stresses would appear to have have hit young adults the hardest," wrote Bloomberg.

In comparison to other wealthy countries like Canada, the UK, and France, the US is miles above in deaths for the 24-to-29 age group, owed to accidental overdoses and poisoning, and traffic accidents.


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