Senior walking

Americans’ life expectancy rose overall from 2000 and 2019, but this was not the case for some racial, ethnic and geographic populations, according to a county-level study published last week in the Lancet.

The analysis estimated life expectancy for five racial–ethnic groups in 3,110 U.S. counties. Improvements across counties were larger from 2000 to 2010 than later in the study period.

Life expectancy for Black Americans increased more than that of any other group in most U.S. counties. But this data may reflect a reversal of gains in the white population, according to the National Institutes of Health, which funded the study. Whites had a slight gain overall, but life expectancy decreased for this group in some counties.

Blacks continue to live fewer years than whites, the authors noted.

Lowest life expectancy

Meanwhile, American Indian and Alaska Native populations experienced a decrease in life expectancy, with a gap of more than 21 years in some counties, the NIH reported. American Indians and Alaska Natives already have the lowest life expectancy of all of the studied populations, they reported.

The study is the first of its kind to include data for all of these racial and ethnic groups. The results are particularly relevant in light of healthcare disparities seen during the pandemic, the authors said in a statement. 

“These varied outcomes in life expectancy raise significant questions,” said NIH researcher Eliseo J. Pérez-Stable, M.D., director of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities. The study will help NIH to better identify interventions for local communities, he concluded.

The results underscore the importance of urgently addressing the causes of health disparities with an aim to promote healthy living and longevity, according to co-author George Mensah, M.D., of the National, Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. 

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