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COVID Pandemic Shortened U.S. Life Expectancy by More Than a Year

FRIDAY, Jan. 15, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- The COVID-19 pandemic significantly shortened life expectancy in the United States, especially among Black people and Hispanics, a new study says.

With more than 336,000 COVID-19 deaths nationwide last year, researchers decided to examine the pandemic's impact on life expectancy.

The projection: Due to pandemic deaths, life expectancy at birth for Americans will shrink by 1.13 years, to 77.48 years.

That's the largest single-year decline in at least 40 years, resulting in the lowest estimated life expectancy since 2003, according to the authors.

Their findings revealed significant racial differences that underscore the pandemic's heavy toll on racial and ethnic minority groups.

The study projects a 0.68-year decline in life expectancy for white Americans to 77.84 years, compared to a 2.1-year decline for Black people, to 72.78 years, and a 3.05-year drop among Hispanics to 78.77 years.

"The COVID-19 pandemic's disproportionate effect on the life expectancy of Black and Latino Americans likely has to do with their greater exposure through their workplace or extended family contacts, in addition to receiving poorer health care, leading to more infections and worse outcomes," study author Theresa Andrasfay said in a news release from the University of Southern California. She is a postdoctoral fellow in gerontology at the university.

The researchers project the gap between Black Americans and white Americans to widen from 3.6 years to more than 5 years.

That's more proof that minorities are especially hard hit by the pandemic, according to the findings, published Jan. 14 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"The bigger reductions in life expectancy for the Black and Latino populations result in part from a disproportionate number of deaths at younger ages for these groups," said study co-author Noreen Goldman, a professor of demography and public affairs at Princeton University.

"These findings underscore the need for protective behaviors and programs to reduce potential viral exposure among younger individuals who may not perceive themselves to be at high risk," Goldman added in the release.

Life expectancy is an important indicator of a population's health and helps assess the impact of COVID-19 on survival, according to the researchers. The 1918 influenza pandemic shortened life expectancy by 7 to 12 years, they noted.

"While the arrival of effective vaccines is hopeful, the U.S. is currently experiencing more daily COVID-19 deaths than at any other point in the pandemic," Andrasfay said. "Because of that, and because we expect there will be long-term health and economic effects that may result in worse mortality for many years to come, we expect there will be lingering effects on life expectancy in 2021."

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on COVID-19.

SOURCE: University of Southern California, news release, Jan. 14, 2021

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