U.S. Life Expectancy Sees Biggest Drop in Decades After COVID-19

Life expectancy has decreased in the U.S. this year due in large part to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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  • Researchers have found that due to the pandemic deaths last year, life expectancy dropped by over a year to 77.48 years of age in the U.S.
  • This is the largest single-year decline in life expectancy in at least 40 years.
  • The declines in life expectancy are likely even more significant among Black and Latino communities.

Despite the hopeful news of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, the harsh reality is that some of the darkest months still lie ahead.

In fact, new research indicates that COVID-19 has reduced U.S. life expectancy at birth for Americans by 1.13 years.

According to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers from the University of Southern California and Princeton have found that due to the pandemic deaths last year, life expectancy has been reduced to 77.48 years of age, the largest single-year decline in life expectancy in at least 40 years.

The study also found that the declines in life expectancy are likely even more significant among communities of color. For Black people, the study found that life expectancy would shorten by 2.1 years and for Latinos by 3.05 years. The decline in white life expectancy is projected at 0.68 years.

“We know that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused … 400,000 deaths in the U.S. in less than a year,” said Dr. Anthony S. Lubinsky, director of the ICU at NYU Langone Tisch Hospital. “The group that did the study used statistical methods to estimate the effect of the deaths in these different groups on their life expectancy in 2020 and compared it to the past several years.”

What the study says about public health

“The results are upsetting, but unfortunately, not surprising,” said Dr. Julia Iyasere, executive director of the Dalio Center for Health Justice at NewYork-Presbyterian. The Dalio Center for Health Justice is an institution dedicated to identifying and addressing the root causes of health inequities with the goal of setting a new standard.

It is currently estimated that Black Americans have died at 1.5 times the rate of their white counterparts from COVID-19. According to the APM Research Lab, 1 in 735 Black Americans and 1 in 595 Indigenous Americans has died from COVID-19.

The USC and Princeton study shows life expectancy is an indicator of a population’s health and a tool to show the effects of COVID-19 on that population’s survival.

What this study has exposed is the discrepancies in healthcare access between racial groups. Of the analyzed deaths for which race and ethnicity were reported, 21 percent were Black people and 22 percent Latino. These two groups have experienced a disproportionate number of COVID-19 cases and deaths.

“The study’s finding of reduced life expectancy from COVID-19 also reflects the disproportionate effects of the pandemic among certain populations — Blacks and Latinos — and is related to their greater workplace exposure, presence of multigenerational housing, and also the effects of their reduced access to healthcare leading to more infections and deaths,” said Dr. Robert Glatter, emergency physician, Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

Iyasere noted that systemic inequality in access to healthcare and employment, and stable housing have affected the COVID-19 cases and death rates in communities of color.

“For example, Black and Latino households are more likely to be overcrowded; they are more likely to have jobs that require frequent contact with others,” Iyasere said. “They are less likely to have jobs that were converted to remote work — all factors that result in higher rates of infection. Additionally, rates of underlying health conditions are much higher, resulting in higher rates of severe infection.”

Before the pandemic, life expectancy in the United States had mostly been increasing in recent decades, although there have been slight decreases in recent years pegged to the opioid crisis

A decline of this magnitude has been rare. This study projects the pandemic-related top in life expectancy to be 10 times greater than any minute declines in recent years.

The effects of the vaccine

More than 15 million Americans have received their first COVID-19 vaccination, but the effects of the vaccine may not be enough to undo the virus’ impact on life expectancy.

“We are hopeful that with mass vaccinations rating up, we can make an impact on the ongoing loss of life expectancy,” added Glatter. “The reality is that the next few months will be a grim period, with the expectation that thousands of daily deaths will continue. With the B.1.1.7 strain being more transmissible, and likely becoming dominant throughout the U.S., the situation may even worsen, requiring revisions of the vaccine to accommodate for this and other emerging strains.”

With all of this in mind, it is important to note that COVID-19 will create ongoing economic and health challenges for many years to come, which will require aggressive measures. One must is to ramp up vaccine delivery.

“At its core, communication between the states and federal government is essential in order to make this effort effective over the next several months,” Glatter said. “The new administration will make a federal coordinated effort a priority in order to reverse the course and trajectory of the pandemic. This includes a national mask mandate to set the tone of this response.”

Long-term trauma

There is also the issue of the long-term effects of the virus, apart from reducing life expectancy, such as lingering physical and mental trauma.

“COVID-19 has hollowed out a generation — the effects, both physical and mental, are unfathomable,” Iyasere said. A nationwide survey noted that almost one-third of Black Americans know someone who has died of COVID-19.

As for physical trauma, long-haul COVID-19 will also pose a challenge for the U.S. healthcare system “by creating a cohort of patients with cardiac and neurologic ailments that will require coordinated long-term care,” Glatter said. “These patients will also impact life expectancy for many years to come.”

“The lingering trauma will outlast the viral problem, and as a healthcare system, we will need to partner with our communities to understand how best to rebuild and recover,” Iyasere added.

This story originally appeared on: Healthline.com - Author:Meagan Drillinger