Statcast Number 14 Transcript

Robert Anderson discusses the latest mortality trends from the report “Deaths: Preliminary Data for 2007”

Announcer: We’re here with Dr. Robert Anderson, chief of the mortality statistics branch with the National Center for Health Statistics. Dr. Anderson is here to discuss the latest death trends in the U.S. What are some of the more striking findings in this new report on deaths in the U.S.?

Anderson: The most significant finding in our new report is that life expectancy has continued to rise and we’re seeing a decrease in the overall risk of dying.

Announcer: Do we know why life expectancy continues to go up for all Americans?

Anderson: Well, life expectancy continues to go up as the result of declines in various causes of death, including heart disease and cancer – especially those two causes – but for some other causes as well.

Announcer: Can you briefly discuss the life expectancy trends among specific groups?

Anderson: Well it’s improving for all groups. We’re seeing life expectancy rise for the white population and the black population… black males have actually reached 70 years for the first time, though they’re still lagging as many as 10 years from the other groups

Announcer: What has contributed to death rates dropping so significantly over the past few years?

Anderson: We’ve seen significant declines in many of the leading causes of death, including heart disease and cancer… diabetes, influenza and pneumonia… we’ve seen declines in mortality due to accidents and homicide… So that’s what’s really driving the decrease in mortality.

Announcer: How significant is it that Alzheimers disease passed diabetes to become the 6th leading cause of death in the U.S.?

Anderson: Well it’s hard to say how significant that really is. It could be just due to random fluctuations. We really won’t know if this is going to maintain itself for another year or so. And we’ll see what happens in coming years when we get more data in. They could just switch back once we have data for 2008.

Announcer: Have the increases in Alzheimer’s mortality stabilized now that better reporting of the disease has happened?

Anderson: We’ve seen continued increases in mortality due to Alzheimer’s disease. Whether that is going to level off or not is hard to say. With the aging of the population you’re going to expect to see more Alzheimer’s disease, but whether the risk of dying goes up is still in question.

Announcer: This is the biggest drop in HIV mortality in almost a decade. Do we know why this occurred?

Anderson: Well I could talk about prevention efforts and our ability to better treat the disease, at least to stave off its effects, but it’s really difficult to say whether this really portends to some sort of additional decrease in the future. Not really sure it’s not just a random fluke….

Announcer: What are we to make of the latest infant mortality numbers?

Anderson: Infant mortality has obviously been declining over the last several decades. We saw sort of a slight increase from 2006 to 2007 but it wasn’t a statistically significant increase. We’re attributing that to the random fluctuations in the number of deaths. So can not attach any importance to these increases.

Announcer: There has been some talk about cancer perhaps surpassing heart disease at some point as the leading cause of death in the U.S. Does the data point to that being a possibility?

Anderson: Well if trends continue as they are, cancer will overtake heart disease as the leading cause of death at some point in the future. But when you talk about projecting mortality in the future, that’s always sort of tricky… If we assume that the trends will continue sort of linearly as they are, then we might see that happen within the next ten years….

Announcer: Our thanks to Robert Anderson for joining us on this edition of Statcast. Statcast is a production of the Public Affairs Office of the National Center for Health Statistics.