Last year, U.S. life expectancy fell for the first time in over 20 years. At the same time, new data from four valley counties show that the death rate has increased particularly among whites.
Over the last 20 years, the death rates among communities of color in the San Joaquin Valley have fallen. But at the same time, white death rates have notably increased, particularly for adults aged 40-64. Dr. Steven Woolf of Virginia Commonwealth University says opioid use is only partially to blame.
"Alcohol use, chronic alcoholic liver disease, accidental alcohol poisoning, and suicide rates have increased," Woolf says.
He refers to these as “deaths of despair.”
"These are deaths that are occurring among a population that is struggling with increasing economic and social stressors like unemployment, wage stagnation, and poverty rates," he says.
Woolf’s study is ongoing and eventually aims to track death rates across the rest of California and the U.S. He argues these preliminary data show that access to affordable health care is more important now than ever.