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Life Expectancy Gap between White and Black Americans is Narrowing, Study Says

Update Date: Nov 06, 2015 12:46 PM EST

The life expectancy gap between white and black Americans is narrowing, a new study found. The researchers noted that the life expectancy rates for blacks have been increasing due to the declining death rates from cancer, HIV/AIDS and heart disease.

"Those causes of death are going down for everyone. But they're going down faster for African Americans," said lead researcher Kenneth Kochanek, of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics. "The next step is to figure out why. It could be access to health care, it could be lifestyle improvements. We can't tell from our data."

The researchers found that from 1999 to 2013, the gap between the life expectancy rates of black and white Americans fell from a six-year difference to a four-year one. More specifically, the life expectancy rate for black Americans increased from 71 to 75.5 from 1999 to 2013. For white Americans, the rate increased from 77 to 79 during the same time game.

The researchers noted that death rates caused by HIV, cancer, heart disease and injuries were declining at a much faster rate for black men than white men. For black men and women, the researchers found that the decline in heart disease was a huge contributor to the increase in their life expectancy.

"That was really striking," Kochanek said. "Everyone knows that heart disease deaths have been going down in the U.S. But it looks like there's been a big impact for African Americans."
The team could not determine if the death rates were declining due to better treatment, better access to care and other factors.

Despite the improved numbers, the researchers also found that black people had faster increases in the death rates for Alzheimer's disease, aortic aneurysm, hypertension, and pregnancy complications.

The researchers were able to track death rates by using death certificate data from 1999 to 2013. The life expectancy at birth for the U.S. was 79 in 2013, which is an all-time high.

The study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

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