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PEOPLE IN U.S. LIVING LONGER
By Rosie Mestel,
Los Angeles Times
March 1, 2005
Americans are living longer than ever before for an average of 77.6 years
and the life expectancy of men is drawing closer to that of women,
according to government statistics released Monday.
Death rates from conditions such as heart disease and cancer appear to be
declining, while those from others, such as Alzheimer's disease and
Parkinson's disease, have risen slightly.
The report, released by the government's National Center for Health
Statistics, is based on more than 2.4 million death certificates issued in
2003, the latest year for which figures are available. The number represents
about 93% of all certificates.
The statistics revealed that life expectancy had increased by nearly four
months from the 2002 figure of 77.3 years.
The gap between women and men narrowed slightly, from 5.4 years in 2002 to
5.3 years in 2003, continuing an equalizing trend that has been observed
The report did not reveal the reasons for mortality changes, said Bob
Anderson, chief of the center's mortality statistics branch, who oversaw the
A large part of the narrowing gap between men and women could be
attributable to differences in deaths from heart disease, which with lung
cancer accounts for more than half of all deaths in the U.S. each year.
"Men are making better progress with respect to heart disease than are
women," Anderson said.
Dr. Arthur Reingold, professor of epidemiology at UC Berkeley's School of
Public Health, noted the lung cancer mortality rate was going up in women
while it had flattened out with men. That is because women began smoking en
masse later than men did and are reaping the consequences later, he said.
The study also found that infant mortality rates which had risen slightly
in 2002 for the first time in 44 years remained at that heightened rate.
This implies that the 2002 finding was real and not a statistical blip.
Death rates declined for several major causes of death. Heart disease deaths
dropped by 3.6%, cancer by 2.2%, suicide by 3.7% and flu and pneumonia by
3.1%. HIV-related deaths fell by 4.1%.
Death rates, however, increased for hypertension by 5.7% and kidney disease
Anderson and Reingold said it was unclear how to explain increased death
rates from Alzheimer's (up 5.9%) and Parkinson's (up 3.3%). The population's
aging cannot explain them, because the statistics were adjusted to take age
There could be changes in what doctors put on death certificates because of
increased familiarity with certain disorders, they said.
Dr. Abraham Lieberman, a University of Miami neurologist and medical
director of the National Parkinson Foundation, said estimates of U.S. cases
of Parkinson's disease could vary from half a million to 1 million.
"When you have that sort of a discrepancy you're a little leery about
saying there's been an increase or decrease in the number of people with
Parkinson's disease," he said.
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