U.S. Life Expectancy Drops, but some Successes Evident

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports life expectancy for Americans declined in 2008 by 36 days. Compared to a 2007 analysis, Americans are dying one tenth of a year sooner. While heart disease and cancer remain the number one and two killers, other successes are evident.

Findings from US Life Expectancy Report

Chronic lower respiratory disease (CLRD) superseded stroke as the number 3 leading cause of death. Stroke mortality fell 3.8 percent. Respiratory related deaths, which now include pneumonia, increased 7.8%. In 2007, the CDC placed pneumonia in a separate category, possibly accounting for the change.

Suicides were also up 2.7 percent from 2007 in the 2008 analysis, as were deaths from essential hypertension and hypertensive renal disease that showed a 4.1 percent increase.

The decline in stroke deaths, according to Ralph Sacco, MD, president of the American Heart Association, stems from early intervention with “clot busting” drugs other medications that prevent stroke recurrence.

Alzheimer’s disease is sixth on the list, as in 2007. At that time estimates of deaths from the disease increased 7.8 percent, but now remain steady. The number 5 leading cause of US deaths is from accidents.


White females have the longest life expectancy, followed by black females then white males and black males – statistics that are unchanged since 1976. In 2008, Hawaii had the lowest mortality and Virginia the highest.

A highlight of the report is lower infant mortality that fell 2.4 percent. The only change since 2007 is that diseases of the circulatory system in newborns are now ninth on the list, having traded places with neonatal hemorrhage that is tenth.

Number one and number two causes of infant deaths are congenital malformations, deformations, and chromosomal abnormalities and disorders related to short gestation and low birth weight, not elsewhere classified, and third is sudden infant death syndrome.

Other success seen in US life expectancy is among black men who are now living 70.2 years, compared to 70 years in 2007. Disparity in deaths between blacks and whites narrowed from 4.8 to 4.6 years. In 2008,

HIV was not among the top 15 leading causes of death, declining 10.8 percent since 2007. Even though life expectancy declined slightly, the overall statistics show stroke and HIV claimed fewer lives and infant mortality dropped 2.4 percent.

National Vital Statistics Reports. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. December 9, 2010;59(2).


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