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White Women in US Are Dying Sooner

A new study offers strong evidence that life expectancy for some U.S. women is falling. Smoking, drug and alcohol abuse may play a part. (AP Photo/Dave Martin/March 2, 2013)
A new study offers strong evidence that life expectancy for some U.S. women is falling. Smoking, drug and alcohol abuse may play a part. (AP Photo/Dave Martin/March 2, 2013)
White Women Are Dying Too Soon in America
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From VOA Learning English, this is the Health and Lifestyle report.

Health experts say there is evidence that many white women in the United States are dying too soon. In other words, they are dying before the average age of death in society as a whole.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics studied death rates nationwide. The center found that life expectancy rates for every population group has either gone up or stayed unchanged. Every group, that is, except one -- white women. For them, life expectancy has gone down.

The decrease is not big. The mortality rate for white women in 2013 was 81.2 years. In 2014, the rate for that same group was 81.1 years. That is a decrease of one-tenth of a percentage point.

Yet health care researchers are concerned. Jarron Saint Onge is one of them. He is with the University of Kansas. He told VOA that he expected life expectancy rates to go up. He uses the term flatline, which means to stay the same.

"As things get better, in a sense, as our life gets easier, our jobs become less dangerous, we would expect that life expectancy continues to go up. When you see life expectancy all of a sudden flatline or not increasing -- especially as we continually see a decline in our smoking rates -- it is cause for alarm."

The other issue is that if life expectancy rates for white women continue to decrease, it could produce an even wider gap between them and other groups in society. Both Blacks and Hispanics are experiencing rising life expectancy rates. The rate for white men is unchanged.

Saint Onge says the increase in premature deaths among white women is largely an issue in rural areas and small communities in southern states. Those places, he says, are seeing an increase in mental health problems, alcohol abuse and drug dependency. The word he uses instead of “increase” is “uptick.”

"We need to back up a little more and say ‘well, what are the reasons we’re seeing these upticks in substance abuse. Is it a response to lack of mental health services? Or is it a lack of economic opportunities or educational opportunities?’ "

Among white women in the U.S., there has been a very small increase in suicides. However, most premature deaths are connected to health problems like heart disease and liver failure.

John O'Neill is director of Addiction Services at the Menninger Clinic in Houston, Texas. He thinks drug and alcohol abuse could be the problem.

"We know that people who struggle with substance use are going to have more medical problems. We know that there are more motor vehicle accidents. We know that there is more crime. There is more domestic violence, more sexual assaults."

Many small American cities and towns have medical centers or hospitals to treat physical problems or sick patients. However, they may lack mental health or drug abuse programs.

O'Neill says researchers should study how social and economic issues, what he calls “psycho-social stressors,” affect people. These stressors can include a weak economy, unemployment, the breakup of families and the effects of returning military veterans who may have mental or physical problems.

He adds that some people may turn to drugs or alcohol to deal with life.

"When we have a number of psycho-social stressors, whether it’s family members who are fighting for our country or loss of (a) job, loss of a relationship, financial problems. We do know, those are stressors that lead people to look for new ways to manage their emotions, new ways to cope."

He notes that alcohol is easily to get in most communities. Drugs are, too.

In March, President Barack Obama launched a program that would provide more than $90 million to community health centers for treatment of drug abuse. News media attention to the problem of opioid pain-killer addiction has also helped to warn Americans of the risks involved in taking such medications. It has also led to discussions in the medical community about other possible treatments for pain.

O'Neill says different forms of addiction treatment have proven successful. But, he adds, having support in the community is very important.

He suggests that at least some of the money currently used to fight the illegal drug trade might be better used helping people stop using drugs that often end up killing them.

I’m Anna Matteo.

Greg Flakus reported this story for Anna Matteo adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

mortality rate n. the number of a particular group who die each year

life expectancy n. the average number of years that a person or animal can expect to live

gap n. a separation in space : an incomplete or deficient area <a gap in her knowledge>: lack of balance : a problem caused by some disparity <a communication gap> <credibility gap>

premature adj. happening too soon or earlier than usual

rural adj. of or relating to the country and the people who live there instead of the city

uptick n. a small increase or rise

flatlineadj. to be in a state of no progress or advancement

stable medical : not getting worse or likely to get worse

psycho-social adj. of or relating to the interrelation of social factors and individual thought and behavior.

stressors n. something that makes you worried or anxious : a source of stress

cope v. to deal with and try to find solutions for problems

opioid adj. possessing some properties characteristic of opiate narcotics but not derived from opium