US life expectancy fell sharply in 2020 due to Covid-19

A person walks past an installation in New York City to remember people who lost their lives due to the coronavirus pandemic, in June 2021. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Average US life expectancy fell by 1.5 years in 2020, a sharp decline driven by the Covid-19 pandemic affecting males and communities of colour the most, new data showed on Wednesday (July 21).

Life expectancy at birth for the total US population was 77.3 years, down from 78.8 in 2019, and the lowest it has been since 2003, said a report by the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The significant fall also bucks a trend of steady increase in the post-World War II period, albeit with small decreases in some years.

Among males, the figure was 74.5 years, a decrease of 1.8 years, and among females it was 80.2 years, a decline of 1.2 years.

"Mortality due to Covid-19 had, by far, the single greatest effect on the decline in life expectancy at birth between 2019 and 2020," the report said.

Deaths from unintentional injuries, homicides (more common among males), diabetes and liver disease also rose.

The declines were partly offset by decreases in mortality due to cancer, chronic lower respiratory diseases and suicide.

Influenza, pneumonia and Alzheimer's-related deaths were also down for males, while for females, mortality from heart disease and stroke decreased.

Among racial groups, life expectancy decreased by 3.0 years for the Hispanic population from 81.8 to 78.8, and by 2.9 years for the black population, from 74.7 to 71.8 years.

The decline was least pronounced in the white population, where life expectancy fell from 78.8 to 77.6 years.

The decrease in life expectancy was greatest for Hispanic males, falling by 3.7 years from 79.0 to 75.3, followed by black males with a decline of 3.3 years, from 71.3 to 68.0.

Among black females, the decline was 2.4 years, from 78.1 to 75.7 years.

"Among the causes contributing negatively to the change in life expectancy, Covid-19 contributed 90 per cent for the Hispanic population, 67.9 per cent for the non-Hispanic white population and 59.3 per cent for the non-Hispanic black population," the report said.

The new report comes a few days after provisional data showed US deaths from drug overdoses surged to a record 93,000 in 2020, driven largely by rising opioid use during the pandemic.

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