U.S. Life Expectancy Rises to Record Level

Life Expectancy for Babies Born in 2006 is 77.7 Years, Says CDC

By Miranda Hitti
WebMD Health News

Reviewed By Louise Chang, MD

April 22, 2009 -- Life expectancy reached a record high in 2006, the CDC reports.

Babies born in 2006 have a record life expectancy of 77.7 years, up from 77.4 years in 2005, the report shows. The CDC chalks that up to a decline in deaths from heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory diseases, and stroke.

Even though life expectancy is at an all-time high, the 2006 life expectancy figure is a bit lower than what the CDC predicted last year, based on preliminary estimates.

Race and gender gaps in life expectancy persisted in 2006.

"White females continued to have the highest life expectancy at birth (80.6 years), followed by black females (76.5 years), white males (75.7 years), and black males (69.7 years)," states the CDC report.

Top Causes of Death Decline

A total of 2,426,264 people died in the U.S. in 2006, based on death certificate data from all states and Washington, D.C.

That's 21,753 fewer deaths than in 2005, dropping the nation's age-adjusted death rate by 2.8% to a record low, according to the CDC.

The report also shows the nation's top 15 causes of death, 10 of which had declines in their age-adjusted death rate in 2006, as this list shows:

  1. Heart disease: down 5.2%
  2. Cancer: down 1.7%
  3. Stroke: down 6.4%
  4. Chronic lower respiratory diseases: down 6.3%
  5. Unintentional injuries: up 1.8%
  6. Diabetes: down 5.3%
  7. Alzheimer's disease: down 1.3%
  8. Influenza and pneumonia: down 12.3%
  9. Kidney diseases: up 1.4%
  10. Septicemia: down 1.8%
  11. Suicide: unchanged
  12. Chronic liver disease and cirrhosis: down 2.2%
  13. Hypertension: down 6.3%
  14. Parkinson's disease: down 1.6%
  15. Homicide: up 1.6%

Although heart disease, cancer, and stroke have had declining death rates for years, 2006 was the first year since 1999 that the age-adjusted Alzheimer's disease death rate has declined. The reason for that decline isn't clear; the CDC report is a statistical snapshot, not an explanation of the forces driving those figures.

The drop in the age-adjusted Alzheimer's disease death rate was just for "one year, and an extremely modest amount," Niles Frantz, Alzheimer's Association spokesperson, tells WebMD via email.

"We have our eye on the big picture and the longer term," Frantz says. "Alzheimer's disease deaths are numerically increasing and are still trending up over time [which is] especially important as other major diseases see their death rates consistently and significantly going down."

SOURCES: CDC: "Deaths: Final Data for 2006." WebMD Health News: "Life Expectancy Reaches New Record." Email from Niles Frantz, senior associate director, public relations, Alzheimer's Association.

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