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Akron Univ. School of Law

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

U.S. Life Expectancy at 78 - We're #30!

News organizations report on the rise in life expectancy in the United States - which now stands above 78 years.  This is great news.  The not-so-great news is that the United States placed 30th in overall life expectancy. The New York Times reports,

For the first time, U.S. life expectancy has surpassed 78 years, the government reported Wednesday.   The increase is due mainly to falling mortality rates in almost all the leading causes of death, federal health officials said. The average life expectancy for babies born in 2006 was about four months greater than for children born in 2005. However, the United States continues to lag behind about 30 other countries in estimated life span, according to World Health Organization data.

Japan is No. 1 on the list, with a life expectancy of 83 for children born in 2006. Switzerland and Australia were also near the top of the list.  "The international comparisons are not that appealing, but we may be in the process of catching up," said Samuel Preston, a University of Pennsylvania demographer. He is co-chair of a National Research Council panel looking at why America's life expectancy is lower than other nations'.

The new U.S. data, released Wednesday, come from the National Center for Health Statistics. It's a preliminary report of 2006 numbers, based on data from more than 95 percent of the death certificates collected that year.  Life expectancy is the period a child born in 2006 is expected to live, assuming the mortality trends observed in that year stay constant.

The 2006 increase is due mainly to falling mortality rates for nine of the 15 leading causes of death, including heart disease, cancer, accidents and diabetes.  "I think the most surprising thing is that we had declines in just about every major cause of death," said Robert Anderson, who oversaw work on the report for the health statistics center. . . .

Life expectancy was up for both men and women, and whites and blacks. Although the gaps are closing, white women continue to have the highest life expectancy (81 years), followed by black women (about 77 years), white men (76) and black men (70). Health statisticians said they don't have reliable data to calculate Hispanic life expectancy, but they hope to by next year.

Increases in female smoking are a major reason that men's life expectancy is catching up with the women's, Preston said. Improvements in the care of heart disease -- a major health problem for black Americans -- helps explain an improving racial gap, he said.

About 2.4 million Americans died in 2006, according to the report.

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