US life expectancy sees sharpest 2-year decline in 100 years

Life expectancy at birth in the U.S. has fallen to 76.1 years, the lowest it has been since 1996, according to provisional data the CDC published Aug. 31. 

Average life expectancy has taken a sharp decline since the start of the pandemic. In 2019, life expectancy at birth was about 79 years. That fell to 77 years in 2020, with the latest report suggesting another drop to 76 years. This marks the steepest two-year decline in nearly a century, when life expectancy fell to 57.2 in 1923, The New York Times reports. 

COVID-19 largely drove the decline seen between 2020 and 2021. Deaths from drug overdoses and other accidental injuries, heart disease and chronic liver disease also contributed. Native Americans and Alaska Natives experienced the largest decline, with life expectancy falling from 67.1 years in 2020 to 65.2 in 2021. In 2019, life expectancy among this group was 71.8 years, meaning it has since fallen 6.6 years. 

"Even small declines in life expectancy of a tenth or two-tenths of a year mean that on a population level, a lot more people are dying prematurely than they really should be," Robert Anderson, PhD, chief of mortality statistics at the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, told the Times.

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