A recent federal report on life expectancy in the U.S. has some depressing news: Life expectancy in the country has decreased, just a year after falling sharply due to the pandemic.
The National Center for Health Statistics at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) noted in a report that the overall life expectancy in the United States is currently 76.1 years, which is the lowest level since 1996. Between 2020 and 2021, life expectancy decreased by almost a year, and it has increased by more than 2.5 years since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
The life expectancy has dropped by the most in two years since records have been kept. It’s also important to note that life expectancy was 79 years in 2019—a full three years longer than it is right now.
Asian women and men are predicted to live the longest, 85.6 and 81.2 years, respectively. Additionally, the report reveals that women are generally anticipated to live longer than men.
Why did life expectancy decline once more?
Despite the complexity of life expectancy, researchers discovered that COVID-19 was primarily to blame for the decline. According to the report, half of the decline between 2020 and 2021 was caused by virus-related deaths.
But other factors also contribute to the decline. In 2021, drug overdoses contributed to a record-high 109,000 fatalities. Unintentional injury deaths, which are also associated with drug overdoses, were a significant contributing factor.
Geriatrician Scott Kaiser, M.D., Director of Geriatric Cognitive Health for the Pacific Neuroscience Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, describes the situation as “deeply disappointing.” “Life expectancy is a key indicator of the general health of the population, and we are accustomed to seeing modest increases in life expectancy year over year.”
While Dr. Kaiser acknowledges that a decline in life expectancy has been linked to the COVID-19 pandemic, he calls the decline’s “sharp and sustained” nature “really disappointing and saddening.”
The “magnitude of it does surprise me,” according to Nancy Nielsen, M.D., Ph.D., senior associate dean for health policy at the University at Buffalo Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. It certainly demonstrates the significant impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on our nation, she continued.
She points out that drug overdose deaths are another important factor. We must stop stigmatizing people who have substance use disorders and acknowledge that addiction is a medical disease, according to the speaker.
According to Perry N. Halkitis, Ph.D., M.P.H., dean of the Rutgers School of Public Health, “this is a sign of a society in decline.” We still have social issues and structural injustices that encourage disease in people. Without addressing them, people will become ill and pass away.
Primary care physician Sabrina Barata, M.D., at Mercy Personal Physicians at Lutherville, notes that the pandemic has had an impact on the population in ways other than COVID-19 cases. Most obviously, she claims, it has had an effect on the population’s rate of depression. “That can result in drug overdoses and suicides, which, along with COVID, were the main causes of the decline in life expectancy.”
How to determine life expectancy?
The CDC used provisional death counts for 2021 based on death records that were received and processed as of April 24, 2022 in order to determine life expectancy.
To identify recent changes, that data was compared with the 2019 and 2020 final estimates.
How to maintain health now?
According to Dr. Kaiser, life expectancy is more of a “reflection of overall population health than an indicator of any one individual’s health.” In general, according to Dr. Nielsen, “we need to dial down the heated rhetoric on science that so divided us during the pandemic and prevented many from seeking the amazing protection provided by vaccination.”
She also advises getting it now if you put off getting medical attention or getting your routine checkups during the worst of the pandemic. Dr. Barata advises against scheduling a telehealth appointment and that you “actually go to the doctor.” Meeting with your doctor in person would be beneficial for many conditions, she claims.
Dr. Kaiser adds that maintaining good mental health as well as eating well, exercising frequently, and doing your best to do so are equally important. He continues, “All that stuff works.