Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Life Expectancy to Drop by More than 1 Year

Whenever life expectancy declines in the United States, it's a big deal. In the past 50 years, the National Center for Health Statistics has measured only four annual declines in life expectancy at birth, all of them small, ranging from a drop of 0.1 years to 0.3 years. 

Brace yourself: Because of Covid-19, life expectancy is projected to drop by 1.13 years in 2020, according to a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). This is a very big deal. 

There's more. The PNAS study was undertaken months ago, and its projections are based on the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation's (IHME) medium scenario of Covid deaths produced in early October. At that time, the medium scenario forecast a total of 321,000 Covid deaths. In fact, Covid killed 344,000 people in 2020, according to the CDC. This larger number is close to IHME's high scenario estimate of 348,000 deaths by the end of the year. The high scenario means an even larger life expectancy decline in 2020, according to the PNAS study—a drop of 1.22 years.

There's even more. Because of Covid's disproportionate impact on people of color, the life expectancy decline will be much greater for Blacks and Hispanics than for non-Hispanic Whites. Under the medium death scenario, Hispanic life expectancy at birth in 2020 is projected to decline by 3.05 years, Black by 2.10 years, and non-Hispanic white by 0.68 years. 

"One of the many very distressing consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic is an estimated 39% increase in the Black-White life expectancy gap," note the study's authors. The life expectancy decline will also reduce what is called the Hispanic paradox (the longer life expectancy of Hispanics versus non-Hispanic whites) by more than 70 percent, the authors report.

Is the projected 2020 life expectancy decline just a blip or will it be long lasting? The study's authors are doubtful the decline is just a blip. "A rapid return to pre-Covid-19 life expectancy is unlikely," they conclude. Covid-19 deaths are continuing to mount. Also, say the authors, there are "the long-term detrimental health impacts for those who recovered from the virus, deaths from other health conditions that were precipitated by Covid-19, and social and economic losses resulting from the pandemic."

Source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Reductions in 2020 US Life Expectancy Due to Covid-19 and the Disproportionate Impact on the Black and Latino Populations

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