ATLANTA -- Life expectancy for Americans reached an all-time high of 77.2 years in 2001, federal officials said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday that life expectancy increased by two-tenths of a year from 2000. A drop in major causes of deaths, such as heart disease, cancer and stroke contributed to the increase.
For men, life expectancy increased from 74.3 years in 2000 to 74.4 years in 2001. For women, it increased from 79.7 years to 79.8 years for the same period. The CDC analyzed more than 97 percent of all state death certificates issued in 2001.
"For the individual, it's good news to know that diseases of the heart are declining, that cancer is declining and stroke is declining," said Elizabeth Arias, statistician for the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, which conducted the study.
"All of these have a lot to do with behavior, something that individuals have a direct say in their own lives in terms of diet and smoking and risk-taking behavior," she said.
The national death rate dropped slightly from 869 deaths per 100,000 people in 2000 to 855 deaths per 100,000 in 2001. The 2001 infant mortality rate remained the same from 2000 at 6.9 infant deaths per 1,000 live births.
Deaths from HIV and AIDS dropped nearly 4 percent between 2000 and 2001, a downward trend since 1995.
Deaths from heart disease and cancer dropped by 4 percent and 2 percent, respectively. Stroke deaths dropped by 5 percent. The biggest drop was 7 percent for influenza and pneumonia deaths, the CDC said.
"Heart disease accounts for over 50 percent of all deaths," Arias said. "As they decline, they have the greatest impact on life expectancy as opposed" to diseases that aren't as common among Americans.
Kenneth Thorpe, chairman of Emory University's department of health policy and management, said further research should be done to see what exactly has created the life expectancy increases.
"How much are due to changes in behavior and lifestyle or interventions in spending in health care?" Thorpe said. "Those are the types of analogies we need to do next to see what's driving improvement."
The report said there were more deaths from kidney disease, hypertension and Alzheimer's disease, increases that ranged between 3 percent and 5 percent. Arias said the higher numbers of deaths from the diseases, which are common among the elderly, were expected because of the country's aging population.
Homicides also increased by 17 percent, something that federal officials attributed to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Without the attacks, the homicide rate would have declined by 1.7 percent, Arias said.
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CDC report: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs
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