COVID-19 Pandemic Increased Life Expectancy Gap

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Researchers found that the gap between Black and white Americans in life expectancy had closed before the COVID-19 epidemic. AJ Watt/Getty Images
  • Researchers believe that the COVID-19 pandemic has reversed a promising trend of life expectancy by widening racial disparities.
  • Experts agree that the type and number of jobs held by people of color during pandemic were crucial factors.
  • They believe that improving access to healthcare, especially preventive care, is a key way to reduce the gap..

Before the COVID-19 pandemic the United States had made significant progress in closing the gap in life expectancy between black and white Americans.

That’s according to a new studyPublished in Annals of Internal Medicine.

Researchers at the University of Washington analyzed data from death and census records to determine the life expectancy of Black, Hispanic, and Hispanic Americans in a three-decade period from 1990 to 2019.

They found that Black Americans’ life expectancy rose by nearly 4 years to slightly over 75 years. This improvement was however still below whites who had a life expectancy close to 79 years.

The researchers also found large differences between states.

Dr. Gregory RothThe study’s lead author, a professor of global health at IHME (Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation), and an associate professor of medicine and cardiology at the University of Washington School of Medicine, stated that the disparity in life expectancy between states is more obvious when you look at the three largest ethnicities.

“Race, ethnicity, and where you live both matter a great deal in determining how long you may live” he told Healthline.

2020 saw the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in a staggering increase in deaths.

To date, more than 1 million peopleCOVID-19 is responsible for the deaths of over a hundred Americans.

An analysisResearch showed that COVID-19 was twice as deadly for people of color than for those of white skin.

The latest dataThe Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has data to show the impact. The gap in life expectancy between Black Americans and white Americans has widened. White Americans have a life expectancy that is 78 years, while Black Americans have it at 72.

Dr. Georges BenjaminThe American Public Health Association’s executive Director, Dr. John Mercer, believes we can sub-categorize the reasons into three categories: the exposure to the virus and the underlying health conditions and the access to care.

He said that people of color were more likely than others to have to work due to the jobs they held.

“If you were a bus driver, worked in a hotel… a quote ‘essential worker’, you were much more likely to be out and about,” Benjamin told Healthline. “For a disease you get by being exposed to other people, you’re much more likely to be exposed to someone who was infected.”

He said that underlying conditions like heart disease, kidney disease and lung disease, as well as obesity in the Black community, made it more likely that you would become sicker if you were infected.

Access to routine and preventive healthcare, as well as testing and vaccines, was a problem.

Benjamin said it made a difference “If you were someone who worked shifts, you weren’t necessarily sitting in front of a computer all day and able to get one of those precious appointments to get tested and later to get vaccinated”.

“The sites were often in places which were difficult to get to and if you weren’t feeling well, you weren’t going to take two buses and a train and stand in line,” he explained.

Benjamin stated that those obstacles also played a part in getting continued and preventive care. This was especially important during the pandemic. People either couldn’t get appointments or were afraid to go to clinics and hospitals.

Roth stated that while his team did not consider potential interventions, there are specific targets to be aware of.

“Access to healthcare remains limited in many communities,” he said. “Routine blood pressure and cholesterol screening, and using inexpensive medications to treat those risks would substantially reduce health disparities if that kind of intervention could be made available in every community for every person.”

Roth claims that to be more effective, disparities must be addressed earlier than the risks have developed.

“True prevention would focus on social determinants of health, for example, making healthy foods easily available to children and young adults” he added.

Benjamin warns that there are no quick fixes to regain lost ground.

“The loss of a year of life expectancy is a really big deal and you don’t get it back in a year,” he said. “It’s going to take an enormous effort to reverse that and get those life expectancy years back. It could take years.”

“I’m hopeful because sometimes very bad things happen in life… but they’re so transparent that everybody sees it,” he explained. “The hard work now is going to be getting people to act on what we now know.”

Benjamin stated that this means improving access to healthcare and addressing structural racism. Benjamin also suggested front-loading when new diseases are introduced into communities of colour.

“If something happens and we’re going to use telehealth to engage people, we have to remember that last time there were a bunch of communities that didn’t have access to wifi,” he added.

Source: Health Line

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