Life expectancy racial gap is at a record low, study finds

Gap between white and black U.S. residents’ life expectancy narrowed by a year

June 13, 2012

A racial discrepancy in life expectancy has narrowed, with white Americans now outliving black Americans by just three to five years longer on average, according to a study published recently in JAMA.

Between 2003 and 2008, the disparity fell to 5.4 years from 6.5 years for men, while in women the gap decreased to 3.7 years from nearly five years. The gap has decreased steadily over the last two decades, although researchers were surprised at how quickly it declined during the five-year study period.

Researchers said the change was helped along by faster declines in the death rates among black U.S. residents with HIV and heart disease. Meanwhile, an increase in deaths from "unintentional poisonings" among white U.S. residents – mostly drug related, and mostly among younger U.S. residents – far outpaced an increase in black U.S. residents.

Sam Harper, the study's author and a professor of epidemiology at McGill University said the results are overall positives, but he would prefer to see the gap narrow because of other reasons than mortality increases for one ethnic group (O'Connor, New York Times, 6/7).

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