U.S. death rate soars 17% in 2020, CDC final mortality report concludes

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Death rates for Americans aged 15 and older rose sharply in 2020, hitting black and Hispanic Americans the hardest, according to a report released Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The report – the agency’s finalized data on death rates in 2020 – confirmed that life expectancy in the United States fell by nearly two years last year, the biggest drop in a year since the Second World War.

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“We don’t normally see a drop in life expectancy of this magnitude,” said Bob Anderson, head of the mortality statistics branch at the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics. “Usually when we see fluctuations in life expectancy, it’s only for a few months of the year, so it’s pretty big. “

Overall life expectancy increased from 78.8 years in 2019 to 77 years in 2020. For men, the average life expectancy decreased by 2.1 years, from 76.3 years in 2019 to 74. 2 years in 2020. For women, the average decrease was 1.5 years, from 81.4 years in 2019 to 79.9 in 2020.

“One of the most shaking things about the report is the racial disparities,” said Dr. Steven Woolf, director emeritus of the Center on Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University.

The age-adjusted average death rate increased by almost 17%, from 715.2 deaths per 100,000 people in 2019 to 835.4 deaths per 100,000 people in 2020. But the increase for Blacks and Hispanics was much more important.

Death rates have increased nearly 43 percent for Hispanic men and more than 32 percent for Hispanic women. Death rates among black men have increased by 28 percent and nearly 25 percent for black women, compared to about 13 percent for white men and 12 percent for white women.

“It just shouldn’t be happening,” Woolf said. “There is this deeply ingrained health consequence of systemic racism. ”

Nine of the 10 long-standing leading causes of death in the United States have remained the same, with Covid first appearing on the list. Deaths from heart disease remained the leading cause of death, with cancer in second place, followed by Covid-19, unintentional injuries – which include drug overdoses – strokes, chronic lower respiratory disease , Alzheimer’s disease, flu and pneumonia and kidney disease. Deaths from heart disease, unintentional injury and diabetes have seen the largest increases.

The increase in deaths from these other causes shows the impact of the pandemic on all aspects of health in America, experts say.

“What these increases in non-Covid causes tell us is that in addition to people who die directly from Covid, there has also been an adverse effect on people’s health for conditions unrelated to the virus,” Woolf said. Decreased access to care and medication, as well as the stress of the pandemic itself, have contributed to the increase in non-Covid-related deaths, he said.

Dr. Elizabeth Seaquist, director of the Division of Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolism at the University of Minnesota, agreed.

“During the pandemic, many people strayed from routine care and chose not to go to clinics due to the risk of infection,” she said.

Without routine screening, the warning signs of diseases like heart disease and cancer may go unnoticed.

For people with diabetes, which requires multiple aspects of management and treatment, it can be difficult to control blood sugar, Seaquist said. “When your diabetes is not well controlled, you can die of acute problems,” she said.

Diabetes deaths increased sixteen-fold from 2019 to 2020 and topped 100,000 deaths for the first time, according to the report.

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Access to insulin continued to be a problem for many Americans in 2020. In addition to missed appointments during the pandemic that could cause a prescription to expire, the drug has also become unaffordable for many. many patients in recent years, Seaquist said.

The average list price of insulin in the United States tripled from 2002 to 2013 and doubled from 2012 to 2016. Over the past two years, States, including Maine, Minnesota and Texas have passed laws limiting reimbursable insulin costs, although costs can still reach hundreds of dollars per month, even with caps.

Despite worrying increases in death rates overall, there have been substantial declines in one area: infant mortality. According to the report, the infant mortality rate fell nearly 3% in 2020, to a record high of 541.9 infant deaths per 100,000 live births.

The drop, Anderson of the NCHS said, has kept life expectancy in the United States from falling even further.

“This is a positive point in the report,” Woolf said. “This tells us that this trend has continued into 2020 despite the pandemic, which is, of course, good news.”

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