Published September 13, 2001
ATLANTA (AP) – Life expectancy is about six years shorter for blacks than whites, and homicide is a leading contributor to the racial gap, a government study said Thursday.
Homicide adds about seven months to the gap, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in what it called the first report analyzing life expectancy by race and cause of death.
Overall life expectancy is about 75 years for whites and 69 years for blacks, the CDC report said.
Heart disease and cancer were the leading causes of the difference between the two races. Life expectancy for whites with each of those diseases was more than a year longer than for blacks, the CDC said.
Health officials expected that much because heart disease and cancer are the nation’s two leading causes of death overall, and medical experts have long said that blacks often suffer from poorer medical care.
The next leading cause of the difference was homicide, which ranks just 13th on the overall list of causes of death for Americans.
“It’s pretty dramatic,” said Dr. LaMar Hasbrouck, an epidemiologist in CDC’s Division of Violence Prevention. “We were surprised to see that homicide is such a major player.”
Life expectancy has been rising for decades in the United States and other major industrialized nations. It is a key measure for public health officials, as well as for governments trying to figure out how much money to devote to pensions, health programs and other social spending for the elderly.
Stroke, HIV, diseases among newborns and motor–vehicle crashes all killed blacks more often or at a younger age than whites, making smaller contributions to the lifespan gap. Only suicide, more common among whites than blacks, narrowed the gap.
Health officials said the report called attention to the need to examine which violence–prevention programs aimed at youth aren’t working and get rid of them. A CDC report published last year said blacks were killed six times as often as whites in homicides.
“When you’re talking about a decrease in lifespan, it’s a larger impact that homicide can make,” Hasbrouck said. “You’re talking about folks dying between ages 15 and 34, for the most part, not in their 50s and 60s and 70s.”