Blacks and Whites Narrow Mortality Gap

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In an article published on June 6, 2012 in the Journal of the American Medical Association,  researchers from McGill University in Montreal, using data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have noted an increase in life expectancy for all people, men and women, black and white.

The information that was used covers the years  2003-2008 and was taken from the US National Vital Statistics figures. The previous study had noted that the disparity in life expectancy between blacks and whites in the United States, which had gone down about 2 years.  In the current study, it has now reached an all-time low.  In fact, the decrease during these 5 years was greater than the 10 year previous study period from 1993-2003.

All of the figures refer to men and women who are of non-Hispanic origin. Between 2003 and 2008, the life expectancy for black men went from 68.8 years to 70.8 years. For white men, it went from 75.3 years to 76.2 years.  For white women, life expectancy rose from 80.3 to 82.2 and 75.7 to  77.5 for black women. These changes reduced the racial gap from 6.5 to 5.4 years among men and from 4.6 to 3.7 years among women.  

In the time period covered by the report, the gap in life expectancy went down for both men and women.  The main causes of the disparity between the races are heart disease, diabetes, homicide, HIV and infant mortality. During this time period however, the reduction is not based on a decrease in homicides. According to the report “changes in unintentional injury deaths were a major reason, along with heart disease and HIV, for the narrowing gap among both men and women.”

The term unintentional injury death has historically been mostly deaths as a result of motor vehicle injuries. This is not an area where there was much of a gap between non-Hispanic blacks and whites. There is however, a new factor to consider as an increase in poisoning has surpassed motor vehicle injures as the leading cause of unintentional injury deaths. This cause of death is more common in middle aged white men than in any other racial or gender group.

The analysis of this data relies on the main cause of death; in many cases there are more than one factor that may contribute to death. The results are positive in that there has been a reduction in the number of deaths among blacks from heart disease and HIV, but the increase among whites in poisoning deaths has also contributed to the decrease in the gap. As a result, not all the news is good.

More about this author: Isabelle Esteves

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