Why Are Young Americans Dying in Increasing Numbers?

female with pet in back seat of car

Dying Young in The United States

A sharp increase in deaths of young Americans aged 10 to 19 years old have experts sounding the alarm bell.

A new study released by researchers from the U. S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows a staggering 12% increase in deaths between 2013 and 2016 for young Americans after a steady decline of the total death rate by 33% between 1999 and 2013.

The increased death rate is not caused by deaths due to illnesses such as heart disease and cancer, the two leading causes of death in the United States, but rather due to injury deaths from motor vehicle accidents, suicide, firearms-related homicide, and poisonings, mostly from an overdose.

Researchers analyzed death certificates between 1999 and 2016 and found alarming trends showing significantly increased death rates between 2013 and 2016 after more than a decade of improved child safety and lower death rates between 1999 and 2013.

Data Shows Worrisome Trends for Young American Life Expectancy

In 2016, the latest year for which the data was analyzed, the death rate for youths in the United States stacked up like this:

  • Motor vehicle accidents: 7.4 deaths per 100,000
  • Suicide: 6.1 deaths per 100,000
  • Homicide: 4.7 deaths per 100,000
  • Poisoning: 2 deaths per 100,000

According to a review of the data from 1999 through 2016 from the National Center for Health Statistics at the CDC:

  • Life expectancy for the U.S. population in 2020 was 77.0 years, a decrease of 1.8 years from 2019
  • The age-adjusted death rate increased by 16.8% from 715.2 deaths per 100,000 standard population in 2019 to 835.4 in 2020
  • The death rate for 10-19 years old in the United States jumped 13% up from 29.6 death per 100,000 in 2013, to 33.1 death per 100,000 in 2016
  • Suicide rates declined 15% between 1999 (4.6 per 100,000) and 2007 (3.9 per 100,000), but skyrocketed by 56% in 2016 (6.1 per 100,000)
  • Homicide rates jumped a staggering 27% between 2014 and 2016 after dropping 35% between 2007 and 2014
  • 85% of unintentional injury deaths among young Americans were attributable to motor vehicle accidents (62%), poisoning (16%), and drowning (7%)
  • Firearms were involved in 87% of all recorded homicides involving young Americans, and 43% of all suicides

A recent study released by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) buttressed the findings of the CDC study that the leading causes of death among young Americans between the ages of 15 and 34 years old were unintentional injuries, most notably motor vehicle accidents, poisoning and drowning; suicide; and homicide.

What’s Causing the Increased Death Rates Among Americans Under Age 25?

Dr. David Katz, founding director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center, referred to a ‘confluence of trends’ that he sees negatively affecting the lives of children in the United States and causing the increased death rates. Dr. Katz said, ‘Recent studies highlight the rising prevalence of both depression and opioid abuse in the U. S. Combine these with yet another feature of American life ‘the ubiquity of guns’ and there is a potent and ominous mix.’

Youth Mental Health Crisis

Other experts, such as Dr. Tina Cheng, John Hopkins Medicine director of the Department of Pediatrics, point out that ‘[s]ome have suggested that social media and cyberbullying may be contributing. Others have pointed to growing income inequality.’

Smart Devices and Vehicular Fatalities

Motor vehicle accident deaths also include deaths from distracted driving and distracted walking involving smartphones. Researchers also noted that a large number of young people killed in traffic accidents were found not to be wearing seat belts at the time of their fatal crash, 50% of those aged 15 to 19 years old, and 43% of children aged 9 to 13.

US Teens Fastest Growing Group to Die of Overdose

The opioid crisis is also heavily contributing to the increase in deaths of young Americans just as it is affecting other communities throughout the country. Drug overdoses are included in the ‘poisoning’ category and account for 90% of the recorded poisoning deaths among youths.

Sudden Cardiac Arrest and Death in American Kids

And, most shockingly, more young Americans are dying of heart failure than ever before. Dr. Nilay Shah, assistant professor of cardiology at Northwestern University, says that health conditions like obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure are the most obvious contributors, but socioeconomic status is the source of the cause. Lack of education, job opportunities, local access to healthy food, dental coverage, and whether they have safe places to exercise all affect heart health.

Everyone is Responsible for Answering the Cry for Help

There is no easy answer but experts agree our nation’s youth are crying for help, and attention and prevention services are key to reversing these alarming numbers. Dr. Thomas Weiser, an associate professor of surgery at Stanford University School of Medicine and a trauma surgeon at Stanford University Medical Center, urged, ‘This disturbing trend should be a wake-up call that mental health services, injury prevention, gun safety and ongoing efforts to improve car and driver safety need support, attention, and financial resources.’

What Can We as a Society Do to Help our Youth Survive?

Here are a few of the ways we can dedicate our time, talents, and resources to help reverse this fatal trend:

  • Tackle the opioid epidemic with more financial, mental health, and medical resources
  • Improve early detection of depression and drug misuse in young people
  • Expand access to mental health and substance abuse services
  • Reduce easy access to ‘lethal forms of self-harm’ by enacting common sense gun laws, keeping firearms locked up and unloaded
  • Develop more widespread gun safety programs
  • Improve driver safety by stressing the importance of no distracted driving, modeling good driving behaviors, and installing apps on smartphones to prevent smartphone use while driving
  • Enforce the importance of always wearing a seat belt when riding in a vehicle
  • Talk to young people about the dangers of distracted, drunk, and drugged driving and walking

The future of our country is at stake, and it’s up to all of us to answer the cry for help from our nation’s youth.