U.S. life expectancy down for second-straight year, fueled by covid-19

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Life expectancy in the United States fell in 2021 for the second year in a row, reflecting the relentless toll exacted by covid-19 on the health of the nation, according to a federal report released Wednesday.

This is the largest continuous decline in life expectancy at birth since the early Roaring Twenties. Americans can now expect to live as long as they did in 1996, according to preliminary data released by the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Overall, life expectancy fell from 77 years in 2020 to 76.1 years in 2021.

The biggest drop occurred in Native Americans, whose life expectancy plummeted to 65, the age at which they are eligible for Medicare, in 2021; In a single year, Indians lost nearly two years of their lives. White people had the second largest drop, losing a full year of life expectancy, while black people lost 0.7 years.

“Everything should have been much better by 2021,” said Noreen Goldman, a Princeton University demographer who has spent years studying socioeconomic health inequalities and whose research focuses on the impact of the pandemic on life expectancy. “There are some countries whose life expectancy in ’21 was higher than before the pandemic. They suffered in 2020 and by ’21 they had more than recovered. We are not.”

The federal report highlights two important things, said Reed Tuckson, co-founder of the Black Coalition Against Covid. The first: That many of these deaths were unnecessary and preventable, Tuckson said. The second: the extraordinary efforts of the black community to overcome the undue burden of death that plagued it at the start of the pandemic so that it could “save herself.”

“We had to come back from so much further,” said Tuckson, an internist and former DC public health commissioner. “As the disease has progressed through society in recent years, that gap has closed. At the same time, white America, especially in red states, is not as compliant with guidelines. Leadership was much less focused. And we will probably see the results of that.”

Some of that goes back to messages, public health experts said.

“You have to talk about the differences, but you have to talk about the differences in a cautious way,” said Thomas A. LaVeist, dean of Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. “It didn’t mean whites weren’t at risk.”

During the pandemic, the coronavirus has disproportionately charted a path of death and disease through the country’s communities of color. The gaps between the health status of the country’s racial and ethnic groups are centuries in the making, with marginalized people suffering the damaging effects of entanglement of environmental, economic and political factors putting them at greater risk of chronic conditions that leave the immune system vulnerable. .

“If someone from a community experienced lifelong food insecurity, lack of access to primary care physicians, and other adverse experiences, their immune response to a disease like Covid would be poor,” said Dana Burr Bradley, dean of the Erickson School of Aging Studies at the University of Maryland in Baltimore County.

And so, even before the pandemic, Native Americans and black people lived shorter lives than most other Americans. The shortened lifespan reflects greater inequality: higher rates of obesity, diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke and chronic liver disease than white people experience. And research shows that they also develop these chronic conditions years earlier.

It is because of this history that Abigail Echo-Hawk, executive vice president at the Seattle Indian Health Board and director of the Urban Indian Health Institute, said she disagrees with the way the report has described the decline in life expectancy among Native Americans. Americans primarily regard as the result of covid-19. The federal study also cites unintended injuries, chronic liver disease and cirrhosis.

“We’re not at risk because we’re indigenous,” she said. This is “a virus that took advantage of the rampant health disparities created by this country. This sheet shows that. We have to recognize it for what it is.”

In Alaska Native villages and communities of color, the lasting silence of grief

Part of that struggle for recognition means they are counted among the victims of the coronavirus, as misclassifying Native Americans in race and ethnicity data often obscures their health experiences. Because of this, Echo-Hawk said, the federal report probably doesn’t reflect the full extent of the devastation in that community.

“In the Indigenous community, a common saying is to say, ‘You were born Indian and you die white,'” said Echo-Hawk. “There’s a lot of sadness in looking at that data and seeing the people we know die and… [who] are not represented.”

Life expectancy at birth, considered a reliable barometer of a country’s health, has risen steadily in the United States since the mid-20th century, with small annual declines in recent years mainly caused by “death by despair.” – drug overdose, alcoholism and suicide. Flat and modestly declining life expectancy from 2015 to 2017 caused great concern among public health experts after decades of advances against heart disease, cancer and other diseases.

In 2019, life expectancy tapped again as the number of fatal drug overdoses fell slightly for the first time in 28 years.

Then came the pandemic and life expectancy has fallen since then.

“The idea that people’s life expectancy — in such a wealthy nation — would decline is a wake-up call,” Bradley said.

The decline in life expectancy has been fueled in part by the staggering number of deaths of younger people in communities of color. According to a peer-reviewed study published last month in the journal Demographic Research, the covid death rate among young and middle-aged Native Americans was 10 times higher than for white people in 2020 and four to five times higher in 2021.

The result, according to the report, which Goldman co-authored: Native American life expectancy fell by 6.4 years in two years.

The report called Native American life expectancy “shockingly low” for a high-income country, and said it was the lowest of any country in the Americas “with the sole exception of Haiti, where estimated life expectancy is comparable to 64.”

Dead in the prime of life: Covid-19 proves especially deadly for younger Latinos

So many deaths at younger ages also contributed to the erosion of the “Latino paradox” life expectancy. For years, researchers had recognized that Latinos in the United States lived longer than white people, despite socioeconomic factors that typically affect health and shorten lives. This benefit had grown since 2006, when the federal government began separately documenting Latino life expectancy.

About two-thirds of that benefit has vanished in the shadows of the coronavirus pandemic, Goldman said.

“How is this country going to deal with this injustice?” asked Echo-Hawk. “We die in silence.”

The Valley Voice
The Valley Voicehttp://thevalleyvoice.org
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.

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