Average life expectancy rises to 77.6 years in 2003

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The average life expectancy in the United States jumped to a record 77.6 years in 2003 up from 77.3 years in 2002, according to the latest figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The overall death rate dropped 1.7%. Death rates for Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, two prevalent diseases among the elderly, increased in 2003. Death rates for other diseases, including heart disease, cancer and stroke -- the nation's three leading causes of death -- declined as much as 4.6%, according to CDC data released Monday.

Women on average lived 5.3 years longer than men in 2003, but the gap has narrowed from 7.8 years in 1979, according to the CDC report. On average, black men live 6.2 years les than white men and black women have a life expectancy of 4.4 years less than white women, the report said.