The United States has seen the biggest one-year drop in life expectancy since World War II during the COVID-19 pandemic, and Hispanic and black populations have seen the biggest declines, data shows government released on Wednesday.
Life expectancy at birth fell from 1.5 years in 2020 to 77.3 – the lowest level since 2003, according to the National Center for Health Statistics of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Between 1942 and 1943, during World War II, life expectancy in the United States declined by 2.9 years.
“The numbers are devastating,” said Chantel Martin, assistant professor of epidemiology at the Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. “The declines that we are seeing, particularly among the Hispanic and non-Hispanic black population, are massive.”
Life expectancy has decreased by:
- 3 years for the Hispanic population, at 78.8 years
- 2.9 years for the non-Hispanic black population, at 71.8 years
- 1.2 years for the non-Hispanic white population, at 77.6 years
Hispanic men, in particular, recorded the largest decline, 3.7 years.
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Health experts have said the data on life expectancy is further evidence of the disproportionate effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on communities of color.
Black Americans are hospitalized with COVID-19 at 2.9 times the rate of white Americans and die at twice the rate, according to CDC data. Latinos are hospitalized at 2.8 times the rate and die at 2.3 times the rate of White Americans. Native Americans are hospitalized at 3.3 times the rate and die at 2.4 times the rate.
“We sounded the alarm bells early on, and I think (the data) directly reflects the long-standing structural racism in this country and how that disproportionately impacts black and Hispanic communities. It has an impact. on where they live, work and play and ultimately had an impact on the risk of dying from COVID-19, ”Martin said.
Deaths from COVID-19 contributed about 74% of the decline in life expectancy in the general population of the United States, according to the data. Another 11% of the decline can be attributed to an increase in deaths from accidents or unintentional injuries, including drug overdose deaths.
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For the Hispanic population, however, COVID-19 was responsible for 90% of the drop in life expectancy. For the black population, which has seen life expectancy hit its lowest level since 2000, COVID-19 contributed 59% of the drop. For the white population, which has seen life expectancy hit its lowest level since 2002, COVID-19 contributed 68% of the drop.
As the gap in life expectancy between the non-Hispanic white and black population has narrowed over the past three decades, the gap has fallen from 4.1 years in 2019 to 5.8 years in 2020. L The life expectancy gap between the Hispanic and white populations, meanwhile, narrowed.
“I really hope this is a wake-up call for the United States,” said Jennifer Karas Montez, professor of sociology and co-director of the Policy, Place, and Population Health Lab at Syracuse University. “We rely a lot on a medical solution – on vaccines. And I don’t think that’s enough.”
Data released earlier this year suggests that life expectancy has fallen by just one year, and the black population has seen the biggest decline. Those numbers did not take into account the fall and winter surges that have resulted in record deaths from COVID-19.
For the Hispanic population, 68% of all deaths from COVID-19 occurred in the second half of the year. For the white population, 71% of deaths occurred in the second half.
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Karas Montez said it was important to consider the effect of COVID-19 on life expectancy in the United States in the context of trends in life expectancy before the pandemic.
Life expectancy has increased in the United States since the 1980s, but at a slower rate than in other high-income countries, she said. Around 2010, life expectancy in the United States stopped increasing and began to decline around 2014.
“We were already at high risk as a nation of not being able to withstand this kind of exogenous shock to the health of the population,” said Karas Montez. “So what’s the rebound of this virus like? I can’t imagine a scenario where we’re going to bounce back and be better than before the pandemic because the long-term trajectory, since 2010, has been a plateau or a decline. “
A study last month from Virginia Commonwealth University found that the coronavirus pandemic had widened the life expectancy gap between the United States and 16 other high-income countries. The researchers found that the gap had fallen from 3.05 years in 2018 to 4.69 years in 2020. This decrease in life expectancy over the past two years was 8.5 times greater than the average decrease in peer countries.
“Even if we vaccinated 100% of the population, I think we would fall back into the very precarious situation we were in, in 2019 in terms of life expectancy,” said Karas Montez. “We need to solidify our foundations here in terms of social, economic and health care infrastructure. We need to solidify this so that we can better withstand something like this in the future, because it will happen again.”
Contribution: Adrianna Rodriguez