New Study Finds More Whites And American Indians/Alaska Natives Are Dying Young


1. In an
alarming new
study, researchers found that deaths among
25–64-year-olds have increased the most among whites and
American Indians/Alaska Natives, when compared to other
racial and ethnic groups.

In an alarming new study, researchers found that deaths among 25–64-year-olds have increased the most among whites and American Indians/Alaska Natives, when compared to other racial and ethnic groups.

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The study findings, published yesterday in
The Lancet
, were based on US death certificates from
1999 to 2014 collected by the National Center for Health
Statistics.

“We wanted to give a comprehensive picture of premature
mortality in the US among major racial and ethnic groups,”

Meredith Shiels, PhD, an investigator at the National
Cancer Institute and lead author of the study, told BuzzFeed
News.

Researchers looked at the change in death rates (not
the absolute death rate) among 25–64-year-olds, which is
known as the “premature mortality rate.” They compared this
across the following racial and ethnic groups: American
Indian/Alaska Natives, Hispanics, blacks, whites, and
Asian/Pacific Islanders. They also identified the specific
causes of death to better understand trends among different
groups.

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2. There
were an estimated 111,000 excess premature deaths among
whites and 6,000 among American Indians/Alaska Natives from
2000 to 2014.

The highest increase in premature death rate was specifically
among women aged 25–30 in both racial groups. When they
examined the annual mortality rates among 30-year-olds, they
found a 2.3% increase in white women, a 0.6% increase in
white men, a 4.3% increase for American Indian/Alaska Native
women, and a 1.9% increase among American Indian/Alaska
Native men.

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3. Still,
the absolute premature mortality rate is highest for
American Indians/Alaska Natives and blacks.

Still, the absolute premature mortality rate is highest for American Indians/Alaska Natives and blacks.

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“To give some context, American Indians/Alaska Natives have
the highest absolute or total rate of premature deaths each
year, followed by blacks, whites, Hispanics, then Asian and
Pacific Islanders,” Shiels said. This study examined how much
the rate changed among different racial and ethnic groups,
which is different from the total number of premature deaths
each year.

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4.
According to the study, the change in rates for these groups
can be attributed to a drastic increase in suicides, liver
disease, and accidental deaths from drug overdoses.

According to the study, the change in rates for these groups can be attributed to a drastic increase in suicides, liver disease, and accidental deaths from drug overdoses.

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The study did not explore the type of drug overdoses, but
Shiels said recent
research from the CDC found that a large portion of
overdose deaths are from opioid drugs, which include
prescription painkillers and heroin, including heroin laced
with fentanyl. Specifically, from 2000–2014 there was a 200%
increase in the rate of deaths from opioid overdoses in the
US, which the CDC called “an epidemic.”

According to Shiels, there were increases in premature death
due to accident in all 50 states for women and in 48 states
for men. “We also found striking regional differences, with
the highest rates of all-cause and accidental deaths between
ages 25 and 49 in the Appalachian region of the South,”
Shiels said.

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5. In
contrast, the premature death rate has declined substantially
among Hispanics, blacks, and Asian/Pacific Islanders.

In contrast, the premature death rate has declined substantially among Hispanics, blacks, and Asian/Pacific Islanders.

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The study found that there were an estimated 112, 000 fewer
deaths in Hispanic individuals, 311,000 fewer deaths in black
individuals, and 34 ,000 fewer deaths in Asian/Pacific
Islanders. “The decline in premature mortality among these
racial groups are consistent with trends in Canada and the
UK,” Shiels said.

The decrease in premature mortality among these groups from
1999 to 2014 is mainly due to declines in death from cancer,
heart disease, and HIV. Researchers attribute this to
successful public health efforts, Shiels said, such as ones
cutting smoking, improving diagnosing disease, detecting and
treating cancer earlier, and increasing access to HIV
treatment.

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6. Overall,
the increase in premature death rates in the US is still
“extremely unusual” for high-income countries.

Overall, the increase in premature death rates in the US is still "extremely unusual" for high-income countries.

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“We usually see improvement in mortality in high-income
countries, but the US is a complete outlier in this regard,”
Shiels said. Reduction of premature mortality is a UN Sustainable
Development Goal, because they are largely preventable
with access to medical care. It’s expected and inevitable to
die of older age, but premature death can mostly be prevented
through targeted public health efforts.

“The lack of progress in whites and American Indians/Alaska
Natives is primarily due to potentially avoidable causes,”
Shiels said.

“Although we’ve seen success in reducing mortality, we need
to continue these public health efforts to lower absolute
premature mortality,” Shiels said. For example, the biggest
decline in premature mortality was seen in black men and
women, but their absolute premature death rate is still 50%
higher than whites.

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7. “In
addition to continued efforts against cancer, heart disease,
and HIV, we need to target these emerging causes of death,
namely drug overdoses, suicide, and liver disease,” Shiels
said.

The NIH
reported that it hopes to use these findings to target
prevention and surveillance efforts and help those groups in
greatest need.

“There’s a need for aggressive public health efforts to
prevent premature mortality and expand medical care,
especially for substance use disorders and mental illness,”
Shiels said.

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