The last time life expectancy at birth fell more dramatically was during World War II. Americans can now expect to live as long as they did in 2006, according to provisional data released by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Black and Latin Americans have been hit harder than whites, reflecting the racial disparities of the pandemic, according to the new analysis. Black Americans have lost 2.7 years of life expectancy and Latinos, 1.9. The life expectancy of whites has dropped by 0.8 years.
As the new coronavirus continues to spread in the United States, experts expect the virus to become endemic, permanently existing in the population. (John Farrell / The Washington Post)
It’s pretty bumpy, said Steven Woolf, director emeritus of the Center on Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University, which is compiling the same data for all of 2020. It’s a huge impact.
Life expectancy at birth, considered a reliable barometer of a nation’s health, has steadily increased in the United States since the mid-20th century, with small annual declines in recent years mainly caused by deaths from drug overdoses, alcoholism and suicide. The flat and slightly declining life expectancy from 2015 to 2017 sparked considerable concern among public health experts after decades of progress against heart disease, cancer and other illnesses.
The only good news in the new report is that life expectancy generally rebounds quickly, because of the way it’s calculated. Experts said when the United States quells the pandemic, it expects it to happen.
Overall, NCHS data shows that life expectancy at birth for the entire U.S. population in the first half of 2020 was 77.8 years. For black Americans it was 72, for Latinos 79.9, and for whites 78. As has long been the case, women could expect to live over 80.5 years, compared to 75.1 years for women. men. The NCHS did not include numbers for Asian Americans or other racial groups.
As the United States nears 500,000 deaths from the pandemic alone, experts were not surprised by the new data. But they said the magnitude of the reduction in life expectancy, especially for black Americans and Latin Americans, was larger than expected.
It’s a big start. We haven’t seen anything this big since the first half of the 20th century, when infectious diseases were much more common, said Elizabeth Arias, health scientist for the NCHS and lead author of the article.
The difference in life expectancy between whites and minorities has been most alarming.
These are huge disparities, and it reflects that the pandemic has affected these two minority groups much more than the majority population, Arias said. They therefore suffered most of the mortality.
The coronavirus has devastated communities of color across the country. Some have large populations of essential workers who cannot avoid the virus in their jobs or who live in multigenerational homes. Black and Latin Americans are more likely to have more limited access to health care, including coronavirus testing, and have underlying health conditions, such as high blood pressure and diabetes, which increase their vulnerability to covid-19.
Data for the new study also comes from the first six months of 2020, when the virus did its worst in an outbreak in the northeast, which is home to large black and Latin populations. The second and third surges swept across larger swathes of the United States. Arias said that when her team looks at a full year of data, they expect them to show a higher proportion of white deaths.
The data also reflects an increase in the number of deaths from other causes, such as strokes and drug overdoses, which are among the collateral damage of the pandemic. In the first months of 2020, some critically ill people delayed seeking health care for fear of the deadly new virus.
In an October study, the CDC estimated that perhaps a third of those excess deaths, the higher number of deaths than expected in a typical year, were caused by factors other than covid-19.
There is nothing good to say, said Anne Case, the Princeton economics professor who coined the term death of desperation with her husband, Princeton economist Angus Deaton. In addition to covid, we know that the drug epidemic also continues to climb.
In December, the CDC reported that the number of overdose deaths exceeded 81,000 in the year ending May 2020. It was the highest number on record in a 12-month period.
Other researchers have come to conclusions similar to those of the CDC. In an article published Feb. 2 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that examined data for all of 2020, Theresa Andrasfay of the University of Southern California and Noreen Goldman of Princeton estimated that life expectancy in the United States would drop 1.13 years as a result. of the pandemic. Black and Latin Americans would experience cuts three to four times larger than white Americans, they said.
Therefore, covid-19 is expected to reverse in 10 [years] progress in closing the BlackWhite gap in life expectancy and reducing the Latin American mortality advantage by more than 70%, they wrote.
In a separate review, a team led by Spanish researcher Hctor Pifarr i Arolas concluded that the number of years of life lost to covid-19 in the United States would be five times the number lost in the worst flu season of the last two. decades.
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