Life expectancy in the United States plunged last year in the biggest year-over-year drop since World War II, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported on Wednesday, further widening the longevity gap between states United and comparable countries.
Covid-19 deaths and drug overdoses fueled the decline – erasing any improvements the country has made in decreasing deaths from cancer and chronic lower respiratory disease – resulting in a 1.5-year drop and reducing life expectancy at birth to 77.3 years. (Life expectancy at birth refers to how long a person born in the year under study – in this case, 2020 – is expected to live.)
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The drop, which was signaled by provisional models last month, highlights the country’s poor health system, experts said.
“What happened in the United States has not happened in other comparable countries despite the fact that Covid-19 is a global pandemic,” said Steven Woolf, director emeritus of the Center on Society and Health of Virginia Commonwealth University.
Deaths from Covid-19 caused nearly 75 percent of the reduction in average life expectancy. But the disease was responsible for 90 percent of the decline in life expectancy among Hispanics, compared to 68 percent among white Americans and nearly 60 percent among black Americans.
The life expectancy advantage of Hispanics over White Americans has more than halved from 3 years in 2019 to 1.2 years in 2020, bringing the current life expectancy of Hispanics -Americans at 78.8 years old. The life expectancy of black Americans has declined by almost 3 years, to 71.8 years, the youngest age in the population since 2000; the decline was nearly 2.5 times the decline among white Americans, whose life expectancy fell to 77.6 years. Data were not available for other races and ethnicities.
The particular impact that the pandemic has had on Hispanics and Black Americans “reflects the inequalities that were present before the pandemic which have to do with unequal access to health care and racial and ethnic disparities in health in general, which are largely related to socio-economic disadvantages, “said Irma Elo, chair of the sociology department and research associate at the Population Aging Research Center at the University of Pennsylvania.
“The people who suffered disproportionately from this pandemic were the same people who were placed in positions where they were more likely to be exposed because of their jobs,” Elo said.
The report also highlighted an increase in homicides and diabetes, which together accounted for about 5.5 percent of the decrease in life expectancy. Chronic liver disease and cirrhosis – which suggest an increase in alcohol abuse, Woolf said – accounted for nearly 2.5% of the decrease.
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He also highlighted the impact of the opioid epidemic.
Researchers estimated that an increase in deaths from accidents or unintentional injuries – a third of which were drug overdoses – was responsible for 11 percent of the drop in life expectancy. Last week, the CDC reported a record high of over 93,000 overdose deaths in 2020, an increase of almost 30% from 2019. Overdoses increased by about 4% from 2018 to 2019.
“We were already seeing a worrying trend before the pandemic and predicting that the stress and depression brought on by job loss, housing insecurity and the pandemic itself would exacerbate substance abuse problems. This report shows that it is. the case, ”Woolf said, adding that the pandemic has also disrupted access to drug treatment, counseling and life-saving resources, such as naloxone dispensers.
However, he pointed out that a poor health system is the underlying force that is reducing life expectancy in the United States as it increases in comparable countries.
“People may think that with Covid-19 and opioids off the table we would be in good shape, but the reality is quite different,” Woolf said.
Yet controlling Covid-19, which is responsible for the lion’s share of declining life expectancy, is necessary for the United States to close racial disparities in longevity.
“We’re going to see this continue if people don’t get vaccinated,” Elo said. “Not being vaccinated puts everyone at risk, not just the unvaccinated individual, and gives the virus the chance to mutate, which can make the vaccines we have less effective.”
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