COVID Drove Biggest Drop in U.S. Life Expectancy Since World War II

By Steven Reinberg

Health Day reporter

WEDNESDAY, July 21, 2021 (HealthDay News) – How deadly has the coronavirus pandemic been in the United States? New research confirms that it played an important role in reducing life expectancy by a year and a half.

This is the lowest level of life expectancy since 2003 and the largest year-over-year drop since World War II, researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have found.

“It was a very serious event. I mean, a loss of a year and a half doesn’t sound like much, but it is,” said lead author of the study Elizabeth Arias, a demographer at the Center. National Health Statistics CDC (NCHS).

“This is a very significant decline and it means our population is really badly affected,” she said. In fact, overall life expectancy has increased from almost 79 in 2019 to around 77 in 2020.

Not only that, but the life expectancy gap between men and women has grown to almost six years during the pandemic. Between 2000 and 2010, the gap narrowed to just under five years, the researchers noted.

The decline in life expectancy is mainly due to deaths from COVID-19, which accounted for 74% of the decline, the results showed.

About 11% of the decrease was attributable to more fatalities from accidents and unintentional injuries. Drug overdoses accounted for over a third of all unintentional injury deaths. Overdose deaths hit an all-time high in 2020, at more than 93,000, the NCHS reported.

Murders accounted for about 3% of the drop in life expectancy. Diabetes accounted for 2.5% and liver disease just over 2%, the researchers found.

Arias expects the decline in life expectancy to continue for some time.

“If we were to completely eliminate COVID, we could revert to a mortality pattern like the one we experienced in 2019,” she said. “But it could also be that the pandemic has indirect effects that we have never seen before.”

For example, people who missed exams and screenings could be diagnosed with diseases later and at more advanced stages than they otherwise would have, Arias explained.


“We may not return to the levels we had, even if we were to get rid of COVID completely,” she said.

Other findings of the report included:

  • Although Hispanic American adults live longer than black or white Americans, they experienced the largest decline in life expectancy of these groups in 2020, dropping from nearly 82 years in 2019 to just under 79 years in 2020.
  • Hispanic men experienced the biggest drop in life expectancy at almost four years. COVID-19 accounted for 90% of the decline among Hispanics.
  • The gap in life expectancy between Hispanics and whites has narrowed dramatically. The gap between Hispanics and Blacks has remained essentially the same.
  • Black life expectancy fell by almost three years, from about 75 in 2019 to 72 in 2020. COVID-19 was responsible for 59% of the drop.
  • The gap in life expectancy between whites and blacks has fallen from four years in 2019 to almost six years in 2020. This gap has narrowed over the past three decades.
  • The life expectancy of whites fell by just over a year, from nearly 79 in 2019 to just under 78 in 2020. COVID-19 was responsible for 68% of the drop.

According to Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, “In many ways, the report tells us the profound impact of COVID, not only on direct COVID deaths, but of course, on others. diseases that have probably been exacerbated. Losing a year of life expectancy is big business. “

Benjamin said the nation’s anemic response to the pandemic has resulted in more deaths than needed.

“Certainly we would have had fewer deaths from COVID if we had reacted more effectively,” he said. “In the beginning, if we had had more effective national leadership in public health, much more aggressive testing and contact tracing, it would have been better. We would always have had a pandemic, it would always have been bad, but not as bad as it was. “

Getting people vaccinated against COVID-19 is essential, but it’s not the total answer to improving life expectancy, Benjamin said.


“It’s not just COVID, it’s heart disease, lung disease, cancer, all of those things – we’re not out of it yet, because of all the care that was delayed during COVID,” he said. he explained.

Additionally, Benjamin isn’t sure America has learned its lesson about pandemics.

“Another is just around the corner,” he said. “The wrong lesson to be learned is not that this is a 100-year pandemic and we won’t see another for another 100 years – no, no, no, no, no. many near misses. We had SARS, monkey pox, West Nile virus, dengue, Zika, Ebola, all of which had pandemic potential. We are just one mutation, one theft plane, something very, very serious. “

The report was published on July 21 in an NCHS Prompt publication of vital statistics.

More information

To learn more about life expectancy in the United States, visit the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

SOURCES: Elizabeth Arias, PhD, demographer, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics, Hyattsville, Maryland; Georges Benjamin, MD, executive director, American Public Health Association; NCHS ‘ Prompt publication of vital statistics, “Provisional estimates of life expectancy for 2020”, July 21, 2021

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