Life expectancy in the United States has been in decline for the first time in decades, and public health officials have identified a litany of potential causes, including inaccessible health care, rising drug addiction and rates of mental health disorders, and socio-economic factors. But disentangling these variables and assessing their relative impact has been difficult.
Now, a multi-institution study led by the Yale School of Medicine and University of Alabama-Birmingham has attempted to tease out the relative impact of two variables most often linked to life expectancy — race and education — by combing through data about 5,114 black and white individuals in four U.S. cities.
The lives and deaths among this group of people — who were recruited for a longevity study approximately 30 years ago, when they were in their early 20s, and are now in their mid-50s — shows that the level of education, and not race, is the best predictor of who will live the longest, researchers report February 20 in the American Journal of Public Health. The individuals were part of the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study.
“These deaths are occurring in working-age people, often with children, before the age of 60,” said Yale’s Dr. Brita Roy, assistant professor of medicine and epidemiology and corresponding author of the paper.
The rates of death among individuals in this group did clearly show racial differences, with approximately 9 percent of blacks dying at an early age compared to 6 percent of whites. There were also differences in causes of death by race. For instance, black men were significantly more likely to die by homicide and white men from acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). The most common causes of death across all groups over time were cardiovascular disease and cancer.Tags: Friday Letter Submission, Publish on February 28