Lifestyle & Belief

Life expectancy gap narrows between races


New research suggests the life expectancy gap is closing between whites and African-Americans in the US.


Brent Stirton

The life expectancy gap between African-Americans and whites in the US has hit an all-time low. 

The report published in Wednesday's edition of the Journal of the American Medical Assn., is based on government data on US deaths between 2003 and 2008.

"For the most part, blacks are making small but important gains in terms of life expectancy," Sam Harper of McGill University in Montreal, Quebec and lead author of the report, told Reuters. 

Harper and his colleagues found the shift in death rates appears to be because fewer African Americans are dying of AIDS and heart disease. On the other hand, whites are statistically dying earlier from unintentional injuries - mainly poisonings, including prescription drug overdoses, Reuters reported.

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While the gap has gotten smaller, that doesn't mean it is equal. The LA Times noted a black baby boy born today can expect to live 5.4 fewer years, on average, than his white counterpart, and a black baby girl will die 3.7 years earlier, on average, than her white counterpart.

"Understanding the causes of black-white differences in mortality has important consequences for interventions to reduce health inequalities," Harper said.  

Similar life expectancy gains were found among women, WebMD reported. Life expectancy rates increased from 80.3 to 81.2 years for non-Hispanic white women and 75.7 to 77.5 years for African-American women.

"There's still quite a large gap in life expectancy for men and women, and that gap is still much larger than we would like it to be," Harper told Reuters.