The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) has published an article, "Temporal Trends in Mortality in the United States 1969-2013," that parses U.S. death rates from 1969 to 2013. The researchers look at the change in age-standardized death rates and years of potential life lost before age 75 years for all causes combined and for heart disease, cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), stroke, unintentional injuries, and diabetes mellitus.
First, the good news—your chances of making it to your 75th birthday have never been better. For example, since 1969 the death rate per 100,000 from heart disease before age 75 for both sexes had dropped 520 to 170 annually. Death from stroke has fallen from 157 to 36 per year. The news on cancer is not so spectacular, but the rate has fallen from 199 to 163 annually. And the diabetes death rate is only slightly lower, moving from 25 to 21 per year.
The massive decline in deaths from heart disease and strokes is attributed to better treatments such as the development of effective drugs to lower cholesterol and blood pressure.
However, the researchers find that for the most recent period, 2010 to 2013 the rate of mortality decline has slowed. They speculate that the slow down is the result of rising obesity among Americans. From the study:
Our observed recent attenuation in declining death rates for obesity-related diseases (eg, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes) may reflect the lagged consequences of increased obesity prevalence since the 1980s. A similar leveling off of declines in death rates for coronary heart disease among young adults has been observed in Wales and England and Australia. In addition to obesity, explanations for these patterns include ceiling on life expectancy, although the slowdown was also observed in premature deaths (measured by years of potential life lost), and slowing of the rate of discovery and dissemination of public health and clinical interventions that have driven declines in morality in recent decades.
As background, U.S. life expectancy in 1969 stood at 66.8 years for males and 74 years for females. According to the latest figirues (2012), life expectancy for males is now 76.4 years and 81.2 years for females. Nevertheless, the ultimate death rate remains stuck at 100 percent.