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Another Big Drop in U.S. Life Expectancy in 2021
  • Posted December 22, 2022

Another Big Drop in U.S. Life Expectancy in 2021

The average American's expected life span at birth took another big hit in 2021, according to final data on death rates for that pandemic year.

Whereas in 2019 the average American could have expected to live an average of 78.8 years, life expectancy declined to 77 years in 2020, and then to 76.4 years in 2021, according to data released Thursday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That's the shortest estimated U.S. life expectancy since 1996, the agency noted.

Of course, the toll taken by COVID-19 -- which has so far killed over 1.1 million Americans -- is largely to blame for the decline. But the CDC reports that fatal overdoses from illicit drugs such as fentanyl also rose sharply in 2021.

Seen another way, "the death rate for the entire U.S. population increased by 5.3%," the CDC added, "from 835.4 deaths per 100,000 population in 2020 to 879.7 in 2021."

Women can still expect to live longer than men: In 2021, the average female could expect to live to 79.3 years of age, on average, and males to 73.5.

As to what is killing Americans most, heart disease remained the leading cause of death in 2021 (about 174 deaths for every 100,000 people), followed by cancer (about 147 deaths per 100,000) and then COVID-19 (about 104 deaths per 100,000), the CDC said.

The other top 10 causes of deaths, in order, were unintentional injuries, stroke, COPD and other chronic respiratory diseases, Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, liver disease and kidney disease.

A second report issued by the CDC looked at the continued rise in drug overdose deaths in the United States, using data from 2001 through 2021.

The news was grim: Driven by the opioid abuse epidemic, and deadly fentanyl in particular, drug overdose deaths took another sizable jump, from 28.3 deaths per 100,000 people in 2020 to 32.4 in 2021.

"The rate of drug overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids other than methadone [drugs such as fentanyl, fentanyl analogs and tramadol] increased 22%," the CDC said, "from 17.8 [per 100,000 people] in 2020 to 21.8 in 2021."

But fentanyl wasn't the only culprit: Overdose deaths linked to cocaine also rose by 22% from 2020 to 2021, and meth-related fatal overdoses rose by a full third, the agency added.

There was one piece of good news -- deaths from heroin abuse fell by 32% over the same time period, the CDC report found.

Both reports were published as Data Brief from the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics.

More information:

For help battling a substance abuse issue, reach out to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service's (SAMHSA) free national helpline.

SOURCES: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, news release, Dec. 22, 2022; NCHS Data Brief, Dec. 2022

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