Racial Inequality and the Staggering Toll on Life Expectancy

Dr. Nunez-Smith

A new study led by researchers at Yale University reveals a staggering disparity in life expectancy between Black Americans and their White counterparts between 1999 and 2020. To analyze trends in health disparities, the team examined U.S. death certificate data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, comparing the age-adjusted mortality rates between the Black population and the White population. Separately, they estimated the excess years of potential life lost among the Black population — and the subsequent loss of human potential — by comparing the age of premature death against typical life expectancy.

The results show that there were 1.63 million excess deaths in the Black population compared with White Americans, representing more than 80 million excess years of potential life lost. According to the analysis, heart disease was the number one contributor towards age-adjusted excess mortality for men and women, followed by cancer for men. The widest racial gap in years of potential life lost within the population occurs during the first year of life.

“We need targeted strategies aimed at early childhood health and preventing heart disease and cancer, some of the main drivers of these disparities, to build a more equitable future,” said César Caraballo a postdoctoral associate at the Yale-based Center for Outcomes Research and Evaluation and lead author of the study.

“It is important to remember this is not an abstract concept. There is a real human toll to these entrenched inequities,” added co-author Marcella Nunez-Smith, associate dean for health equity research at Yale and C.N.H Long Professor of Internal Medicine, Public Health, and Management. “The impact on families and communities should be unacceptable to all of us.”

The full study, “Excess Mortality and Years of Potential Life Lost Among the Black Population in the US, 1999-2020,” was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. It may be accessed here.

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