The gap in life ex­pectancy be­tween blacks and whites shrank ap­prox­i­mately by one year from 2003 to 2008.

Life-ex­pectancy gap be­tween races de­creas­ing

Modern Healthcare - 100 Top Hospitals - - FRONT PAGE - By Pa­trick Smith

While black males still live five­and-a-half years less than their white coun­ter­parts on av­er­age, a study shows that in the past decade, the U.S. has made un­prece­dented progress in de­creas­ing the life­ex­pectancy gap be­tween blacks and whites.

Ac­cord­ing to “Trends in the Black-White Life Ex­pectancy Gap 2003-2008,” pub­lished June 6 in the Jour­nal of the Amer­i­can Med­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion, the gap in life ex­pectancy be­tween blacks and whites shrank ap­prox­i­mately one year be­tween 2003 and 2008, putting the racial dis­par­ity at its low­est rate ever.

The lead au­thor of the re­port, Sam Harper of McGill Univer­sity in Mon­treal, says the study car­ries a “dual mes­sage.”

“The gap in life ex­pectancy be­tween blacks and whites is now as small as it’s ever been, and I think that’s an im­por­tant sign of progress,” Harper says. “That be­ing said, the gap is still sub­stan­tial. There is still work to be done.”

Harper and his co-au­thors used mor­tal­ity stat­ics from the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion to es­ti­mate life ex­pectancy at birth and com­pare dif­fer­ences be­tween nonHis­panic white and black Amer­i­cans.

Dr. Clyde Yancy, pro­fes­sor of medicine and chief of car­di­ol­ogy at North­west­ern Univer­sity’s Fein­berg School of Medicine, calls the study’s find­ings “truly en­cour­ag­ing” and em­pha­sizes the need for fur­ther progress.

“Rather than trum­pet this as a success, it should con­tinue to be a cause for con­cern, and some would ar­gue it should be a call to arms,” he says.

In the story of the life-ex­pectancy gap, heart dis­ease stands as both the hero and the vil­lain. The dis­ease was the big­gest con­trib­u­tor to the de­cline in the racial gap and to the size of the dis­par­ity to be­gin with—deaths from heart dis­ease ranked as the No. 1 rea­son for the gap be­tween white and black women in 2003 and 2008.

Ac­cord­ing to the Amer­i­can Heart As­so­ci­a­tion’s 2012 sta­tis­ti­cal update, be­tween 1998 and 2008 the rate of deaths at­trib­ut­able to car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease de­clined by 30.6%, but in 2008, blacks were still 30% more likely to die of heart dis­ease than whites.

The AHA has had a “sharp­ened fo­cus” on blacks for the past 15 years, says Pamela Gar­mon John­son, AHA’s vice pres­i­dent of health equities and mul­ti­cul­tural ini­tia­tives.

While much of that fo­cus has in­volved in­creas­ing aware­ness and en­cour­ag­ing healthy liv­ing, the AHA has turned its at­ten­tion to­ward health­care providers in mi­nor­ity com­mu­ni­ties. John­son says the AHA is try­ing to “hold those clin­ics and hos­pi­tals ac­count­able” for the well­be­ing of their pa­tients.

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