Life expectancy in the United States is dropping and COVID is to blame, says the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). In 2020, life expectancy in the U.S. dropped by 1.8 years — the biggest drop since World War II, according to new figures from the federal organization. All 50 states and the District of Columbia saw drops in life expectancy.
The overall national life expectancy dropped from 78.8 years in 2019 to 77 years in 2020, the first year of the pandemic. The final overall death rate in America rose from 715 deaths per 100,000 in 2019 to 835 per 100,000 in 2020 – a nearly 17 percent, according to the report.
Of course, COVID spiked death rates across the globe, but the virus itself isn’t solely responsible for the drop in life expectancy. Rather, it compounded other risk factors for an earlier death, like unintentional injuries due to drug overdoses and preexisting conditions complicated by the virus. Dr. Robert Anderson, National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) Chief of Mortality Statistics, explained that these figures do not include deaths where COVID was a contributing factor, admitting that that type of tracking can get tricky.
“[COVID] may have exacerbated an existing disease or it may have contributed in some way but it wasn’t what initiated the chain of events leading to death. And the person who is certifying the cause of death — usually it’s a physician, medical examiner, or coroner — has to determine what role COVID-19 played in causing the death, and this is essentially three options: it was the underlying cause and it initiated that chain of events; it was a contributing factor and played some role but it wasn’t the underlying cause; or it wasn’t a factor at all, in which case it shouldn’t be reported on the death certificate.”
COVID was the third-leading cause of death with more than 350,000 Americans losing their lives to the virus in 2020 alone, with nearly 150,000 more deaths than the fourth leading cause of death (accidents), and over 250,000 fewer deaths than cancer, which is the second-leading cause of death.
States with the highest life expectancy were mostly in the West and Northeast, while states in the South tended to have the lowest life expectancy. Hawaii had the highest life expectancy at 80.7 years, while Mississippi had the lowest at 71.9 years, according to the report.
The report also found that women had an overall higher life expectancy than men at 79.9 years versus 74.2 years. Women had longer life spans in all 50 states and D.C. And another 2022 study still in preprint suggests that U.S. life expectancy likely dropped again in 2021.
Now’s a great time to schedule vaccines before the impending COVID and influenza Fall/Winter surge.
Before you go, check out these inspiring quotes about grief and death: