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Suicides and drug overdoses were two reasons for an increase in the number of deaths in the United States last year. They also were partly to blame for a continuing decrease in how long Americans are expected to live.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that there were more than 2.8 million deaths nationwide in 2017. That is nearly 70,000 more than in 2016. It was the most deaths in a single year since the U.S. government began counting more than a century ago.

The Associated Press says the increase is partly a result of the nation’s growing, aging population. But it is deaths in younger age groups — especially middle-aged people — that have had the biggest effect on life expectancy, experts said.

The “statistics are a wake-up call that we are losing too many Americans, too early and too often, to conditions that are preventable,” said CDC Director Robert Redfield.

The report, called “Suicide Mortality in the United States, 1999-2017,” was based on government records. It found that the suicide death rate last year was the highest in at least 50 years. There were more than 47,000 suicides, up from a little less than 45,000 the year before.

In addition to suicide, the United States is experiencing a drug abuse crisis, with more than 70,000 overdose deaths last year. The CDC report, “Drug Overdose Deaths in the United States, 1999-2017,” said overdose deaths rose 10 percent last year. It blamed the increase largely on the illegal use of synthetic opioids, drugs that are designed to ease pain.

The Decrease

For a long time, U.S. life expectancy rates were increasing, rising a few months nearly every year. Now, life expectancy is decreasing. It fell in 2015, stayed the same in 2016, and decreased again last year, the CDC said.

A baby born in the United States last year is expected to live about 78 years and 7 months. An American born in 2015 or 2016 was expected to live about a month longer, and one born in 2014 about two months longer than that.

The nation is in the longest period of decreasing life expectancy since the early 1900s, when World War I and influenza combined killed nearly 1 million Americans. In 1918, average life expectancy was 39 years.

Barring the unusual experience of the early 20th century, “we’ve never really seen anything like this,” said Robert Anderson, a CDC official.

Among the nation’s 10 leading causes of death, only the cancer death rate fell in 2017, while 7 other causes increased. They include suicide, drug overdose, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.

Heart disease remains the number one killer, and the death rate from heart disease has stopped falling. In years past, reductions in heart disease deaths were enough to serve as a counterbalance to other causes of death, but that is no longer true, Anderson said.

Causes of Death

CDC officials did not try to explain the cause of decreasing life expectancy, but a disease prevention expert thinks the cause is hopelessness.

William Dietz is with George Washington University in Washington, D.C. He suggested that financial struggles, inequality and divisive politics are all depressing many Americans. “I really do believe that people are increasingly hopeless, and that that leads to drug use, it leads…to suicide,” he said.

But the increase in drug overdose deaths has started to slow. From 2015 to 2016, the rate of increase was 26 percent, but from 2016 to 2017, it was 10 percent.

That’s not quite cause for celebration, said John Rowe, a professor of health policy at Columbia University in New York.

“Maybe it’s starting to slow down, but it hasn’t turned around yet,” Rowe said. “I think it will take several years.”

I’m Susan Shand.



UN officials say more people than ever before are going hungry. And they blame it on the global economic crisis.

UN Food and Agriculture Director-General Jacques Diouf says it is with "deep regret" that he announces the new estimate for hungry people in the world.

"The number of those suffering from chronic hunger in the world has topped one billion in 2009. One billion and 20 million to be more precise," he says.

Diouf says a "dangerous mix" of the global economic slowdown and very high food prices pushed another 100 million people into the hungry category over the past year.

"Neither drought, nor floods or disastrous harvests can be held to blame this time. Worsening hunger in the last three years largely stems from economic shocks," he says.

This includes the global credit crunch (thắt chặt tín dụng), falling trade and investment flows, declining remittances and budgetary pressures on development aid.

"The financial and economic crisis is having a particularly profound impact on poor and rural households, specifically, the rural landless, the urban poor and the female-headed households," he says.

The latest figures show the number of hungry people in the Asia-Pacific region is up 10.5 percent. In sub-Saharan Africa, there's an 11.8 percent increase. The Near East and North Africa are up 13.5 percent. Latin America and the Caribbean show a 12.8 percent increase. Even developed countries are not immune, showing a nearly 15 and a half percent hike in the number of hungry people.

The FAO leader says the world's food system is "fragile and vulnerable."

"The situation goes beyond traditional humanitarian dimensions. It calls for a new world food order," he says.

World Food Program Executive Director Josette Sheeran warns, "Unless world leaders respond by ensuring all people access to adequate and affordable nutrition, we are in danger of losing a generation to malnutrition and despair."

Sheeran says hunger can help destabilize countries. Last year, high prices triggered food riots in 30 countries.

"Without food, people have only three options: they riot, they migrate or they die. None of these are acceptable options," she says.

She says having enough food to eat is "one of the most critical peace and security issues of our time."

"A hungry world is a dangerous world. This is an issue that rightly belongs at the top of the global agenda from the G8 to the G20, to the G77, to the (UN) General Assembly and here, of course, at FAO and our Rome-based agencies," she says.

But Sheeran says the good news is the world has the know-how to solve the problem. China, for example, once a major recipient of WFP aid, now helps supply the agency with food.

Mathew Wyatt of the International Fund for Agricultural Development says one of the best solutions is investing in smallholder farming.

"About two billion people in the world, that's about a third of humanity, depend on their smallholder farms for their livelihoods and for their food. With the right support, these farmers can double or triple their very meager yields and they can then feed themselves and their families," he says.

Investment brings a triple payoff (thưởng phạt)

"First of all, it boosts production. There is more food available. Secondly, because it's production by some of the poorest people in the world, it directly reduces poverty…. And thirdly… agriculture and smallholder agriculture can be an engine of broader economic growth," he says.

The UN agency officials call on donor nations to continue their aid to hungry people. But they also say it is a time to lay the groundwork to solve the hunger problem once and for all.

Joe De Capua - Washington

Composed & Edited by Lê Quốc An
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