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50+: Live Better, Longer

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U.S. Life Expectancy Down

At 77.8, U.S. Life Expectancy Drops a Tenth of a Year; Lung Deaths Rise
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Dec. 9, 2010 -- Overall U.S. life expectancy dropped a tenth of a year to 77.8. It's down by a fifth of a year in white men and women but up to 70 years for black men -- an all-time high.

Meanwhile, lung diseases such as asthma, emphysema, and chronic bronchitis are up nearly 8%. They have overtaken stroke as the third leading cause of death in the U.S.

Heart disease and cancer, the top two killers of Americans, account for just under half of all U.S. deaths.

The new numbers come from the CDC's preliminary analysis of 2008 death certificates, the most recent data available.

This isn't the first downtick in U.S. life expectancy -- there have been three others since 1980, the most recent in 2005. It's too soon to say whether the current slight decline is the beginning of a plateau or whether American life span will resume its upward trend.

The report finds that from 2007 to 2008:

  • Life expectancy for white men is down 0.2 years to 75.3, but up 0.2 years to 70.2 for black men.
  • Life expectancy for white women is down 0.2 years to 80.3, but steady at 76.8 for black women.
  • The gap in life expectancy between black and white Americans is down to 4.6 years.

The report also looked at causes of death in 2007 and 2008:

Infant mortality in the U.S. dropped 2.4% to an all-time record low of 6.59 deaths per 1,000 live births.

The leading cause of infant death was birth defect, followed by disorders related to preterm birth and low birth weight. Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) was the third leading cause of death in U.S. infants.

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