Black Americans Are Living Longer, C.D.C. Reports

By GINA KOLATA
from NY Times

Black Americans still have a higher death rate over all than whites, but the gap is closing, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported on Tuesday.

Black Americans who live to 65 may now expect to live longer than whites of the same age, the federal researchers also found.

The narrowing gap in death rates first emerged at the start of this century, and it shows no signs of abating. Both black and white Americans are living longer, but the death rate among blacks has been dropping faster than that among whites.

In fact, heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States, now kills blacks and whites at about the same rates.

Fifteen years ago, black Americans had a life expectancy at birth of 71.8 years. For whites, the figure was 77.3 years.

Blacks now have a life expectancy of 75.6 years, and whites can expect to live on average for 79 years.

But disparities remain, the researchers found.

Blacks aged 35 to 64 are 50 percent more likely than whites to have high blood pressure. The homicide rate among blacks aged 18 to 34 is nine times as high as the rate among whites. Among blacks aged 35 to 49, the homicide rate is five times as high as it is among whites.

Why, then, do blacks who are older than 65 live longer than whites?

Timothy J. Cunningham, the lead author of the report, said the lower death rate among older black Americans first emerged in 2011. He attributed it to “weathering.”

Black Americans who are younger than 65 tend to die more often than whites from chronic diseases like diabetes, strokes and heart disease.

As a result, Dr. Cunningham said, black Americans who make it to 65 are comparatively healthier than their white peers, because many of those who are most susceptible to chronic diseases have already died.

This disparity, and the differences in death rates generally, involve social factors as much as medical ones, Dr. Cunningham added.

Black Americans as a group have lower levels of education and homeownership as well as higher rates of poverty and unemployment, all factors linked to poorer health.

Individual behaviors like smoking are more common among younger blacks, compared with whites, and they contribute to higher death rates in younger age groups.

“It is important to invest in the places where people live,” Dr. Cunningham said, “so they can eat healthier food and get physical activity in safe spaces and quit smoking if they started.”

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