Sep 21, 2021 - Health

Study: Pandemic cut U.S. life expectancy by more than 9 million years

Years of life lost due to COVID-19
Data: Annals of Internal Medicine; Chart: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

The pandemic slashed U.S. life expectancy by more than 9 million years, with Black and Hispanic Americans losing more than twice as many years per capita compared to white Americans, according to research published Monday in Annals of Internal Medicine.

Why it matters: The data show that despite reports of older and more vulnerable populations assuming many of the deaths, young people with above-average life expectancies, including Black and Hispanic communities, were not spared.

  • "The COVID-19 pandemic has robbed Americans of 9 million birthdays that would otherwise have been celebrated," Hanke Heun-Johnson, one of the authors of the study tells Axios.
  • "Our results demonstrate that COVID-19 has not been a pandemic just for the old and the vulnerable, but also for younger and healthier groups," they added.

Details: The researchers calculated what life expectancy would have been for a sample of nationally represented Americans 25 years or older if the pandemic had never happened.

  • Years of life lost is another way to measure premature mortality, which weighs preventable deaths that occurred to younger people.

By the numbers: They found that on average, each person who died lost out on 12 years of life, and over a third of those who died would have otherwise lived a normal or better than normal life expectancy.

  • Of the 9 million years of life lost between March 2020 and March 2021, 4.7 million were for adults 25 to 64 years old.
  • The greatest toll among Black and Hispanic communities were men aged 65 years or older.

Context: In 2019, U.S. life expectancy due to cancer and cardiovascular disease deaths was cut by 15 million years, each.

The big picture: A data gap in the beginning of the pandemic led the public to underestimate the threat posed by the virus and oppose public health measures, the authors write.

Of note: The study analyzed COVID through the middle of March 2021 and since then the U.S. has experienced the Delta variant and surpassed 675,000 deaths on Monday.

  • It's likely the "burden of disease has shifted to a younger population as older Americans have generally embraced vaccination," Ashish Jha, of Brown University School of Public Health, wrote in a corresponding editorial Monday.
  • "Throughout the pandemic, some have asserted that the primary effect of COVID-19 is limited to older Americans, a view that is both cavalier in its treatment of those Americans and factually inaccurate," he added.
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