University of Pittsburgh Study Documents Narrowing of Racial Gap in Premature Death

The Graduate School of Public Health at the University of Pittsburgh has produced a study that shows that the racial disparity in premature deaths has narrowed significantly since 1990. The data showed that declining rates of heart disease, cancer deaths, and HIV – particularly among Blacks in their 30s and 40s – are largely responsible for the closing of the gap.

Researchers used “years of life lost” to measure premature death by summing the number of years each death occurs before a “target” age to which all people could be expected to live. For example, if a man dies of a heart attack at age 56 when he would otherwise be expected to live to age 76, then his years of life lost is 20. Between 1990 and 2014, years of life lost declined by 28 percent among Blacks. Another reason for the closing of the gap was a rise in years of lost life among White women, primarily due to drug overdoses.

Donald S. Burke, dean of the Graduate School of Public Health at the University of Pittsburgh and a co-author of the study, stated that “it is very welcome news that public health interventions appear to be working to improve health and save lives. Unfortunately, despite the improvement, there is still a substantial racial gap in early death rates, but if current trends persist, this gap should continue to narrow.”

Jeanine M. Buchanich, research associate professor of biostatistics and the lead author of the study, added that “our study shows that racial disparity in health outcomes is not inevitable. It can change, and the gap can be narrowed. Now we need to pinpoint what led to these improvements.”

The full study, “Improvement in Racial Disparities in Years of Life Lost in the USA Since 1990,” was published in PLOS One. It may be accessed here.

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