Life Expectancy in U.S. Hits a New High

Deaths also at an all-time low, new government report shows

WEDNESDAY, Aug. 19, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- Life expectancy in the United States has reached almost 78 years, a record high, federal health officials said Wednesday.

Not only has life expectancy increased, but the death rate has dropped to an all-time low of 760.3 deaths per 100,000 people, according to the new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"It is difficult to say for sure why this trend continues," said report author Robert N. Anderson, chief of the Mortality Statistics Branch, at CDC's National Center for Health Statistics. "We are making improvements in medical care and prevention. There are lots of factors that could be in play," he noted.

"If you look at all the demographic groups, we are making improvements across the board," Anderson said. "Life expectancy has been increasing for the last 50 years or so, and the mortality rate has been coming down steadily as well."

Anderson noted that life expectancy in the United States is still lower than in many other industrialized countries, including Canada and Japan.

The report is based on data from nearly 90 percent of U.S. death certificates.

According to the report, life expectancy in 2007 increased to 77.9 years, up from 77.7 years in 2006. Life expectancy has increased 1.4 years since 1997.

Other findings in the report include:

  • Life expectancy is at an all-time high for both men and women (75.3 years and 80.4 years, respectively).
  • The gap between male and female life expectancy has narrowed since a peak of 7.8 years in 1979 to 5.1 years in 2007 (the same as in 2006).
  • Life expectancy for black men has reached 70 years for the first time.
  • The death rate fell for the eighth straight year to a new low of 760.3 deaths per 100,000 people. That's 2.1 percent lower than the 2006 rate of 776.5. The 2007 death rate is half that of 60 years ago (1,532 per 100,000 in 1947.)
  • In 2007, the number of people who died in the United States was 2,423,995. That's a 2,269 decrease from 2006.
  • Heart disease and cancer accounted for almost half (48.5 percent) of all deaths in 2007.
  • From 2006 to 2007, deaths for eight of the 15 leading causes of death dropped. There were fewer deaths from influenza/pneumonia, homicide, accidents, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure and cancer.
  • However, deaths from the fourth leading cause of mortality, chronic lower respiratory diseases, increased 1.7 percent. Death rates also increased for Parkinson's disease, chronic liver disease and cirrhosis, and Alzheimer's.
  • In 2007, there were 11,061 deaths due to HIV/AIDS, a 10 percent drop from 2006, the biggest one-year drop since 1998. HIV remains the sixth leading cause of death among those aged 25 to 44.
  • The death rate for infants was 6.77 per 1,000 live births in 2007, up 1.2 percent from 2006, but the increase was not statistically significant, the researchers noted. The leading cause of infant mortality was birth defects followed by problems related to preterm birth and low birth weight. Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) was the third leading cause of infant death.

Dr. David L. Katz, director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University School of Medicine, said he is less concerned with increased life expectancy and more concerned with how people are living longer.

"It's certainly the wrong season for a Grinch, so I would prefer not to be one, and to simply add a hallelujah in response to these convincing data that life expectancy in the U.S. has reached an all-time high," Katz said. "But I fear this glass may be half empty. I need to know both why, and how, we are living longer."

Obesity, diabetes and chronic disease rates are at an all-time high in the United States, Katz noted.

"I suspect we may be living longer not because of improvements in health, but thanks to the ability of high-tech, high-cost medicine to forestall death despite a growing burden of chronic disease," he said. "That means we may be adding years to life while reducing the life and vitality in those years, a very dubious bargain."

Modern medicine may help humans live relatively long lives, Katz said. "But to prosper, we must do a far better job of cultivating health at its origins. There is much more to living well than not dying."

More information

To see the full report, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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