Life Expectancy Declines Again In The United States, Lifestyle Is Partially To Blame

Written By BlabberBuzz | Saturday, 30 April 2022 20:30
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According to researchers, life expectancy in the United States fell in 2021, continuing a disturbing trend that began during the pandemic's first year. In particular, the average life expectancy in the United States fell from 78.86 years in 2019 to 76.99 years in 2020.

According to the new research, it then declined by a smaller amount in 2021, to 76.60 years. The new study discovered that declines in life expectancy among white Americans were mostly responsible for the continuing trend.

In 2020, the pandemic disproportionately affected Black and Hispanic Americans, compounding chronic health disparities. The researchers hypothesized that vaccine hesitation among certain white Americans, as well as resistance to pandemic restrictions, could explain the shifting dynamics in 2021, particularly in states with disproportionately white populations.

"We already knew that the U.S. experienced historic losses in life expectancy in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. What wasn't clear is what happened in 2021. To our knowledge this is the first study to report data for 2021, and the news isn't good," Coordinating research author Dr. Steven Woolf, director emeritus of Virginia Commonwealth University's Center on Society and Health, stated in a university news release.

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"Early in 2021, knowing an excellent vaccine was being distributed, I was hopeful that the U.S. could recover some of its historic losses," said Woolf. "But I began to worry more when I saw what happened as the year unfolded. Even so, as a scientist, until I saw the data it remained an open question how U.S. life expectancy for that year would be affected. It was shocking to see that U.S. life expectancy, rather than having rebounded, had dropped even further."

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Experts believe the introduction of the faster-spreading delta and omicron COVID-19 subtypes played a significant effect. "Deaths from these variants occurred almost entirely among unvaccinated people," Woolf made a point. He does, however, feel that "what happened in the U.S. is less about the variants than the levels of resistance to vaccination and the public's rejection of practices, such as masking and mandates, to reduce viral transmission."

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High rates of obesity and heart disease, as well as discrepancies in access to health care, exacerbated the epidemic, according to lead study author Ryan Masters, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Colorado Boulder (CU) and an affiliate with the CU Population Center.

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"Those same factors made the U.S. more vulnerable than other countries to the mortality consequences of COVID-19," Masters said.

The researchers examined official data from the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics for 2018 to 2020, and then tentative data from the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics for 2021. They analyzed the changes in life expectancy using models.

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When final figures were released, previous reports based on the same modeling were shown to be accurate, according to Woolf. Not only did the United States' life expectancy plummet even more, but it also fared worse than 19 other wealthy countries throughout the pandemic. By all historical measures, the drop in life expectancy for people of color was massive in 2020, but it did not continue in 2021.

Hispanic Americans maintained life expectancy between the two most recent years, after dropping 3.7 years in 2020. Black Americans rebounded 0.42 years in 2021, compared to their decline of 3.22 years in 2020.

No estimates are available for Asian Americans, Native Americans or other demographics because of data limitations. The study was posted Thursday on the MedRxiv preprint server and has not yet been peer-reviewed. Gregg Gonsalves, a Yale School of Public Health epidemiologist not involved in the study, said the findings were important as well as "heartbreaking" for the "real lives lost."

"Yes, greater coverage of vaccination may have stemmed some of this suffering," he told the Washington Post. "But we also have had an overriding desire to put the pandemic behind us for over a year now in the United States, which shaped our decisions to forgo basic protections at a personal and community level, throwing us all into harm's way."

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