By Bernd Debusmann Jr
BBC News, Washington
US life expectancy has fallen to the lowest level seen since 1996, continuing a steep decline largely driven by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Government data showed life expectancy at birth now stands at 76.1 compared to 79 in 2019. That is the steepest two-year decline in a century.
Covid-19 was the main contributing factor, according to US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention data.
Life expectancy of Native Americans and Alaska Natives fell by four years.
According to the provisional data, life expectancy fell by 2.7 years between 2019 and 2021.
The statistics show that Covid-19 accounted for 50% of the decline between 2020 and 2021. Between 2019 and 2020, the pandemic contributed to 74% of the decline.
Unintentional injuries – a term which also includes drug overdoses – reached record highs in 2021 and contributed to 15.9% of the decline.
Deaths from heart disease, chronic liver disease and cirrhosis and suicides were also significant contributors.
The fall in US life expectancy was particularly pronounced among Native Americans and Alaska Natives.
Since 2019, life expectancy among this demographic has dropped by 6.6 years, more than twice that of the wider US population.
The CDC statistics also highlight stark differences in life expectancy between men and women. For men, life expectancy fell by about a year to 73.2 in 2021 while women's life expectancy fell by 10 months to 79.1
A separate set of 2020 data released last week also showed significant geographical differences across the country. Life expectancy in Hawaii is the highest at 80.7, compared to 71.9 years in Mississippi.
Life expectancy in the US is among the lowest of developed nations around the world.
In the UK, for example, life expectancy stood at around 79 for men and 82.9 for women in 2020 after it fell for the first time in 40 years.
According to the latest available statistics from the World Bank, Hong Kong and Japan have the world's highest life expectancies at around 85 followed by Singapore at 84.
Life expectancy in countries including Switzerland, Australia, Norway hovers at around 83.
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By Bernd Debusmann Jr