Black Americans Face Much Higher Rates of Early Death, Study Says

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May 17, 2023 -- Black Americans have a starkly higher rate of early mortality than whites, with 1.63 million “excess deaths” occurring among Black people over two decades, according to a new study published in JAMA.

Black Americans lost a total of more than 80 million years compared to whites from 1999 to 2020, the study found.

The early death rates are largely due to increased rates of heart disease, cancer, and infant mortality, the study says.

“The study is hugely important for about 1.63 million reasons,” said Herman Taylor, MD, an author of the study and director of the cardiovascular research institute at the Morehouse School of Medicine in KFF Health News.

“Real lives are being lost. Real families are missing parents and grandparents,” Taylor said. “Babies and their mothers are dying. We have been screaming this message for decades.”

Another author of the study, Clyde Yancy, MD, attributed the disparities to the country’s centuries of discrimination and resulting inequities in education and job opportunities for generations of Black people. Yancy is the chief of cardiology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.

The economic cost of health inequalities for racial and ethnic minorities, including Black people, was at least $421 billion in 2018, based partly on medical expenses and premature death, says another study in JAMA. “And the economic burden of health inequities for adults without a 4-year college degree was $940 billion or $978 billion, according to 2 data sources, respectively.”

The CDC reported that in 2021, non-Hispanic white Americans had a life expectancy of 76; for non-Hispanic Black Americans, it was 71.