U.S. Life Expectancy at All-Time High, But Infant Mortality Increases

For Release: Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Contact: NCHS Press Office (301) 458-4800

E-mail: paoquery@cdc.gov

Deaths: Preliminary Data for 2002. NVSR Volume 52, Number 13. 48 pp. (PHS) 2004-1120. pdf icon[PDF – 2.3 MB]

Life expectancy in the United States was the highest ever in 2002, but infant mortality increased from a rate of 6.8 infant deaths per 1,000 live births in 2001 to a rate of 7.0 per 1,000 births in 2002, the first year since 1958 that the rate has not declined or remained unchanged.

A new report prepared by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), “Deaths: Preliminary Data for 2002,” finds that in 2002, life expectancy in the United States reached a new high of 77.4 years, up from 77.2 in 2001. Life expectancy increased for both men and women, and for African Americans and whites.

The report attributes the rise in infant mortality to an increase in neonatal infant deaths (infants less than 28 days old), particularly infants who died within the first week of life. However, there was continued decrease in late-term fetal deaths – defined as 28 or more weeks of gestation.

Three causes of death accounted for most of the increase in infant mortality: congenital anomalies (birth defects), disorders related to short gestation and low birth weight, and maternal complications of pregnancy. Deaths from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) declined between 2001 and 2002, continuing a long-term downward trend.

The preliminary report cited 27,977 infant deaths nationwide in 2002, up from 27,568 in 2001, out of about 4 million births each year. The report tracks more than 130 causes of infant death, but more detailed information will become available later this year when linked birth and death records are analyzed by NCHS, the health statistics center.

“Factors such as low birthweight, preterm births, and multiple births all increase the risk of infant death,” said Edward Sondik, director of NCHS. “This year, some of these risk factors may have played a significant role in the increase in infant deaths, but we’ll know more as additional data become available.”

Overall, death rates for the total U.S. population dropped in 2002. The national age-adjusted death rate decreased slightly from 855 deaths per 100,000 population in 2001 to 847 deaths per 100,000 in 2002. There were declines in mortality among most racial, ethnic, and gender groups except for American Indians (both males and females) and non-Hispanic white females, whose death rates remained unchanged from 2001.

Among the Nation’s leading causes of death, there were declines in mortality from heart disease (3 percent), stroke (nearly 3 percent), accidents/unintentional injuries (nearly 2 percent), and cancer (1 percent). The biggest decline in mortality among the leading cause of deaths was for homicides – down 17 percent. That number had increased sharply in 2001 due to the September 11th terrorist attacks. Excluding the September 11th deaths, the decrease from 2001 to 2002 would have been 3 percent, which still reflects a continuing downward trend in homicides that began in 1991.

There has also been a continued decline in the preliminary age-adjusted death rate from HIV/AIDS, which dropped 2 percent between 2001 and 2002. HIV mortality has decreased approximately 70 percent since 1995, but remains the 5th leading cause of death for people ages 25-44.

Mortality rates increased for some leading causes of death, including Alzheimer’s disease (up 5.8 percent), influenza and pneumonia (up 3.2 percent), high blood pressure (up 2.9 percent), and septicemia or blood poisoning (up 2.6 percent).

The new report is based on data recorded from more than 96 percent of State death certificates issued in 2002. CDC also collects annual data from birth records, which document recent trends in low birth weight, cesarean and induced deliveries, and preterm and multiple births -– all factors that can have an impact on infant health.

“Deaths: Preliminary Data for 2002” and “Supplemental Analyses of Recent Trends in Infant Mortality,” which further analyzes the infant mortality findings, are available at the CDC/NCHS Web site.


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