Though the upward trend in life expectancy in the United States recently reached a new record, higher death rates for certain conditions have contributed to a lower life expectancy for black populations, a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found.
Researchers found that life expectancy for people in the United States overall has increased by 11 percent since 1970, up from 70.8 years to a high of 78.7 in 2010. The gap between the life expectancies for white and black populations has also narrowed during that time to a difference of 3.8 years. But the disparity still exists because of higher mortality in the black population from certain conditions, with heart disease being the main contributing cause.
The report, published on Thursday, is the first in a series to examine the causes of death that contribute to differences in life expectancy between ethnic and racial populations.
Overall, the report found, white women continued to have the highest life expectancy in 2010 at 81.3 years, followed by black women at 78 years, white men at 76.5 years and black men at 71.8 years. Higher death rates due to heart disease, homicide, cancer, diabetes and perinatal conditions accounted for 60 percent of the black population disadvantage. Heart disease alone was responsible for a loss of just over one year in life expectancy.
But the disparity between white and black men and women could have been worse, the report found. The gap would have been as high as 4.4 years if not for the lower death rates for suicide, unintentional injuries, Alzheimer's disease and chronic lower respiratory diseases such as bronchitis, emphysema and asthma.
The gap in life expectancy between white and black men was even greater than the overall difference, at 4.7 years. Researchers said the larger disparity could be attributed to the three higher death rates among black men for heart disease, homicide and cancer.
Black women fared better, with only a 3.3 year difference from white women. Diabetes replaced homicide for black women as one of the leading causes of death that contributed to the difference.
Heart disease was the leading cause of death that contributed to the life expectancy gap for the black population overall, as well as when results for men and women were examined individually.
The CDC reports that heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, as well as the leading cause of death for black men and women. About one in four deaths each year occur due to heart disease.