Life Expectancy Increased in 2001, Mostly Because of Fewer Deaths From Major Diseases, Including AIDS
Life expectancy for Americans reached a record high of 77.2 years in 2001, partly due to a decrease in deaths due to major diseases, including HIV/AIDS, according to a report released last week by the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, the Washington Post reports (Stein, Washington Post, 3/15). CDC researchers analyzed more than 97% of all state death certificates from 2001 and found that life expectancy for men rose from 74.3 years in 2000 to 74.4 years in 2001. For women, life expectancy rose from 79.7 years to 79.8 years for the same period (Yee, AP/Las Vegas Sun, 3/15). Life expectancy increased one-tenth of a year, to 77.7 years, for whites, and three-tenths of a year, to 72.2 years, for African Americans (Washington Post, 3/15). The age-adjusted death rate dropped from 869 deaths per 100,000 people in 2000 to 855 deaths per 100,000 people in 2001, while the infant mortality rate remained the same at 6.9 deaths per 1,000 live births.
Reasons for Increase
The increase in life expectancy is partly because of a decrease in major causes of death, such as heart disease, cancer and stroke, the AP/Sun reports (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 3/15). The rate of deaths from heart disease declined 4% between 2000 and 2001, 2% for cancer, almost 5% for stroke and about 2% for accidents and unintentional injuries. The largest decline among the leading causes of death was the 7% decline for influenza and pneumonia. The age-adjusted death rate for HIV/AIDS declined 4% from 2000 to 2001. The number of AIDS-related deaths has dropped nearly 70% over the previous six years, the Post reports (Washington Post, 3/15). HIV remains the sixth leading cause of death for people ages 25 to 44, and African Americans in this age group are disproportionately affected by the disease compared with other groups (Logan, Reuters Health, 3/14). HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson said, "This report highlights some encouraging progress, including a continued reduction in death rates from the nation's three leading killers -- heart disease, cancer and stroke. At the same time, it reminds us that we need to do more to reduce the health disparities that disproportionately affect certain racial and ethnic groups" (HHS release, 3/14). CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding said in a statement that although AIDS-related deaths are down, "we must remain focused on HIV prevention and keep positive trends in perspective" (Reuters Health, 3/14).