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Life Expectancy in America Hits Record High

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The average life expectancy for Americans is 77.6 years, a record high according to the latest statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The CDC released the numbers Monday. Life expectancy is calculated based on mortality in 2003, the most recent year for which substantially complete data is available.

The figure is up from 77.3 in 2002 and comes in spite of a decades-long rise in obesity reported by the agency in October.

The new CDC report also shows that the gender gap is closing. The difference between life expectancy in men and women (who live longer) closed from 5.4 years in 2002 to 5.3 years in 2003. The gap as 7.8 years in 1979.

The report, "Deaths: Preliminary Data for 2003," was prepared by CDC's National Center for Health Statistics.

Among the conclusions were record-high life expectancies in several categories:

  • White males - 75.4 years
  • Black males - 69.2 years
  • White females - 80.5 years
  • Black females - 76.1 years

Hawaii had the lowest, or best mortality rate while Mississippi had the highest.

Positive numbers

Age-adjusted death rates declined for eight of the 15 leading causes of death, including the two leading causes of death: heart disease (down 3.6 percent) and cancer (down 2.2 percent). Strokes were off 4.6 percent and suicide was down 3.7 percent.

For decades, heart disease was the nation's top killer. Cancer took its place for Americans 85 and younger as of 2002, according to a separate report released in January.

Some other encouraging findings:

  • Firearm mortality dropped nearly 3 percent between 2002 and 2003.
  • The preliminary age-adjusted death rate for HIV declined 4.1 percent between 2002 and 2003, continuing a downward trend observed since 1994.
  • Age-adjusted death rates from alcohol dropped 4.3 percent and the rate for drug-related deaths fell 3.3 percent over the previous year.

Mortality rates climbed, however, for Alzheimer's disease, kidney disease, hypertension, and Parkinson's disease, which entired the top 15 for the first time.

The leading causes of death For Americans in 2003

1Heart disease684,462
2Malignant neoplasms554,643
3Cerebrovascular diseases157,803
4Chronic lower respiratory diseases126,128
6Diabetes mellitus73,965
7Influenza and pnemonia64,847
8Alzheimer's disease63,343
9Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, nephrosis42,536
12Chronic liver disease and cirrhosis27,201
13Essential hypertension and hypertensive renal disease21,841
14Parkinson's disease17,898
15Pneumonitis due to solids and liquids17,457

LiveScience Chart / SOURCE: CDC

Robert Roy Britt
Rob was a writer and editor at starting in 1999. He served as managing editor of Live Science at its launch in 2004. He is now Chief Content Officer overseeing media properties for the sites’ parent company, Purch. Prior to joining the company, Rob was an editor at The Star-Ledger in New Jersey, and in 1998 he was founder and editor of the science news website ExploreZone. He has a journalism degree from Humboldt State University in California.