US life expectancy at 25-year low, CDC says

Last year, the average life expectancy for Americans shortened by over seven months, according to new CDC data

The new report follows an already big decline in life expectancy of 1.8 years in 2020, making the expected life span of someone born in the U.S. now 76.4 years – the lowest in nearly two decades. 

COVID-19 death and drug overdoses, most notably synthetic opioids like fentanyl, were the primary drivers of the drop in life expectancy. As a result of the pandemic, which killed nearly 417,000 people last year, COVID-19 continued to be the third leading cause of death for the second consecutive year, and the U.S. saw significant changes in life expectancy, which is usually rare from year to year. 

CDC statistician Kenneth Kochanek told NPR that although COVID-19 deaths are on the decline, this doesn't mean life expectancy will rebound quickly in the years to come, because it wasn't the only contributor to the higher death toll in 2021. 

The data also points to a mental health crisis, with drug overdose deaths reaching over 106,000 last year, which has a massive effect on life expectancy.  

There was also an increase in deaths by suicide and from liver disease caused by alcohol, which also shortened the American life span. 

"The majority of those deaths are to younger people, and deaths to younger people affect the overall life expectancy more than deaths to the elderly," Mr. Kochanek told NPR.

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