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Covid-19 shortens life expectancy in the United States by one year

A new government report finds that the average life expectancy in the United States plummeted dramatically in the first half of 2020, especially among black and Hispanic people, a sign that the coronavirus pandemic is shortening the lives of people. Americans.

Overall U.S. life expectancy dropped to 77.8 years, a full year reduction from an estimated 78.8 years in 2019.

The declines were even greater in certain demographics. For example, the average life expectancy fell by 2.7 years among black people and by 1.9 years among Hispanics between 2019 and the first half of 2020, according to the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), which is part of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) The life expectancy of white people fell by 0.8 years, on average.

Life expectancy is reduced as a result of Covid. Photo: Reforma

To put those numbers in context, when America’s life expectancy fell by 0.2 years between 2014 and 2015, after years of steady increases, the news made headlines.

The nearly three-year decline among African Americans is particularly troublesome, said one expert.

« These are huge differences in life expectancy, » said Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association. « Losing a year is not a big deal, but losing three years is shocking. »

The new statistics highlight the huge impact that health care inequalities have had on black and Hispanic communities in the past year, experts said.

« During some of the peaks of the COVID pandemic, it was revealed that people of color in the US fared worse when infected with the COVID-19 virus, » said Dr. Teresa Murray Amato, president of emergency medicine for the Long Island Jewish Forest Hills in New York City.

The CDC estimates life expectancy using birth certificates and death certificates and produces statistics that provide a reliable snapshot of the overall health of Americans.

« Every day of life is valuable, » Benjamin said. « People must think that these deaths were preventable. Life expectancy is a statistic based on how long we think people would live. »

The longevity of blacks and Hispanics is the most affected

Life expectancy varied much more when gender and ethnicity were taken into account:

The life expectancy of black men fell by 3 years (from 71.3 to 68.3). Hispanic men lost 2.4 years of life expectancy (from 79 to 76.6). Black women experienced a 2.3-year decline (from 78.1 to 75.8). Hispanic women experienced a decline of 1.1 years (from 84.4 to 83.3). In comparison, white men had a decline in life expectancy of 0.8 years (from 76.3 to 75.5), while white women had a decline of 0.7 years (from 81.3 to 80.6).

« For the US overall, it was a loss of a year. But when this triples for black men and doubles for Hispanics, it’s a problem, » Benjamin warned. « The whole country was devastated, but this also speaks to the huge health inequalities that drove us back. »

Benjamin noted that during the pandemic, the country lost more people than during the entire Second World War, which included deaths in both combat and domestic situations.

« During the five-year period of World War II we had more than 400,000 deaths, and this is what we have had in one year, » Benjamin lamented. « This should get people’s attention. And it’s not over yet. »

People in black and Hispanic communities have long had a harder time affording and accessing health care than whites, said Dr. Juan Wisnivesky, chief of internal medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.

During the pandemic, these communities were also less able to participate in infection control measures that seek to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Wisnivesky noted.

For example, people were more likely to have to work outside the home, and they were less able to maintain strict social distancing due to their living conditions, he explained.

« There has been an uneven burden of COVID, a burden that these numbers reflect, » Wisnivesky said.

There are many factors involved

The life expectancy of all Americans was likely also affected because the pandemic caused people to forget about health tests that could potentially detect life-threatening diseases, observed Jesse Schold, director. from the Center for Research in Population Health at the Lerner Research Institute of the Cleveland Clinic.

Many people lost their jobs due to the pandemic. People in confinement were also more likely to eat poorly, drink more alcohol and use drugs. Schold noted that overdoses rose during the pandemic, a sign that progress in the country’s fight against its opioid epidemic has staggered.

Additionally, a substantial number of people who have contracted COVID-19 have suffered long-term health problems that could ultimately limit their life expectancy, Schold added.

« I don’t think we’re just going to have the same health this summer or fall, when (hopefully) all the direct effects of COVID have abated, » he lamented. « We know that COVID has many consequences, beyond direct mortality. »

Schold cautioned that the CDC numbers are preliminary, representing only half a year, but added that « it’s something we need to watch very closely, in part because the long-term consequences of all this will take a while to evolve. »

The experts concluded that the life expectancy of Americans could stagger for years, based on the multitude of factors related to the pandemic, which affect health in direct and indirect ways.

Dr. Robert Glatter is an emergency medicine physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. He said that « the adverse impact of COVID-19 on life expectancy, although it is already very apparent, will continue to have effects for decades. The ripple effects of COVID-19 are leaving sequelae of death and destruction. We must do everything. possible to intervene and break this deadly cycle. « 

The new report, by Elizabeth Arias and her NCHS collaborators, was published in the February 18 issue of Vital Statistics Rapid Release.

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