August 26, 2021

Life Expectancy in the US Drops

Life Expectancy in the US Drops 

By: Sydney Sheffield 

The United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released a report stating that life expectancy in the United States has dropped by a year and a half, to 77.3 years of age, largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This is the biggest one-year decline since World War Two, and the lowest life expectancy has been since 2003. 

"Life expectancy has been increasing gradually every year for the past several decades," Elizabeth Arias, a CDC researcher who worked on the report, told Reuters. "The decline between 2019 and 2020 was so large that it took us back to the levels we were in 2003. Sort of like we lost a decade." 

According to Arias, deaths from COVID-19 contributed to 74% of the decline. In different communities, COVID-19 contributed to 90% for the Hispanic population, 67.9% for the non-Hispanic white population, and 59.3% for the non-Hispanic black population. Drug overdoses were also a large contributor. In 2020, US drug overdoses rose by 30%, the highest ever recorded. 

Racial and ethnic disparities were shown in the report. The life expectancy of black populations fell by 2.9 years to 71.8 years of age. This is the lowest level since 2000, and the last time there was a divide this large among black and white populations was in 1999. The largest decline of any group was in Hispanic males, who declined 3.7 years to 75.3 years of age. Women are also more likely to outlive men, with an average life expectancy of 80.2 years or 5.7 years longer than men. 

The authors of the report did note that life expectancy would have declined, even more, had it not been for the decrease in deaths from cancer, chronic lower respiratory diseases, heart diseases, suicide, and certain perinatal conditions. Besides COVID-19 and drug overdoses, there was an increase in unintentional injuries, homicide, diabetes, chronic liver disease, and cirrhosis. 

“If it was just the pandemic and we were able to take control of that and reduce the numbers of excess deaths, they may be able to gain some of the loss,” Dr. Arias told The New York Times. “But additional deaths may emerge as a result of people missing regular doctor visits for other health conditions during the pandemic. We may be seeing the indirect effects of the pandemic for some time to come.”