WEDNESDAY, Dec. 16, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- Average life expectancy in the United States has reached almost 78 years, a record high, federal health officials said Wednesday.
From birth in 2007, women can expect to live to 80.4 years on average and men to 75.3 years, according to the report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But even though Americans can expect to live longer than their parents, life expectancy in the United States is still lower than in many other industrialized countries, including Canada and Japan.
Along with increased life expectancy, the report notes the death rate has dropped to an all-time low of 760.3 deaths per 100,000 people, continuing a long-term trend.
"The risk of dying has dropped to a record low level, and life expectancy has reached a record high," said report co-author Arialdi M. Minino, a statistician at the CDC's Center for Health Statistics, Division of Vital Statistics.
"Ever since the 1960s, the death rate has been decreasing in the United States," he said. Fewer deaths from heart disease, stroke and cancer are driving the trend, he said.
The report is based on data from nearly 90 percent of U.S. death certificates.
According to the report, life expectancy in 2007 increased to 77.9 years -- or 77 years and 11 months -- up from 77.7 years in 2006. Since 2000, life expectancy has increased 1.4 years.
The five leading causes of death, accounting for 64 percent of all deaths, are heart disease, cancer, stroke, chronic lower respiratory diseases and accidents.
Other findings include:
- Death rates in the United States vary by region and state, with the Southeast leading the nation. West Virginia's death rate is 25 percent higher than average, while Hawaii has the lowest death rate.
- White women have the longest life expectancy (80.7 years) followed by black women (77 years).
- At age 65, life expectancy was 18.6 years in 2007, an increase of 6 percent since 2000.
- Since 1989, the gap in life expectancy between whites and blacks has dropped 35 percent, to 4.6 years.
"This is great news," Dr. William O'Neill, executive dean for clinical affairs at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, said of the overall findings.
Many people say the United States health care system is broken, O'Neill said. "But, this is kind of great evidence to show there has actually been some dramatic improvements in the health of Americans over the last 20 years."
However, living longer will also have unforeseen effects on the country, he said.
"We are going to have many people 80 to 90 years old," O'Neill said. "So how is the U.S. going to handle this huge increase?"
People living 20 years or more than their predecessors will have to rethink retirement planning, O'Neill said.
Also, the nation will see a significant drain on Social Security and Medicare benefits, he said. These programs weren't designed to support people for that long, he said, noting people typically lived five to 10 years after retiring, he said.
Increased life expectancy is largely the result of better treatment for heart disease, he said.
"The biggest reason people are living longer is that we have done a fantastic job in dealing with coronary artery disease," O'Neill said. In time, cancer may overtake heart disease as the nation's number one killer, the report noted.
O'Neill anticipates the trend toward longer life will continue, especially as cancer treatment improves. "I am seeing people living with cancers that 15 years ago would have been considered hopeless," he said.
For more information on life expectancy, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.