What The COVID-19 Pandemic Has Done To American Life Expectancy

The last couple of years has taken their toll on life expectancy. According to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), American life expectancy has plunged for the second straight year. In 2020, life expectancy was 77 years of age, which was a four-year drop from 2019. For 2021, the provisional data indicates that life expectancy dropped to 76.1 years, the lowest since 1996. The CDC report states that the nearly one-year decline in life expectancy between 2020 and 2021 is largely related to higher mortality due to COVID-19, which comprised 50% of the decline in life expectancy. Unintentional deaths — the majority of which were due to drug overdose — were the next biggest contributor.

Broken down by gender, male life expectancy declined a full year from 74.2 years in 2020 to 73.2 in 2021. Women did slightly better, losing a little less than a year, dropping from 79.9 years to 79.1. COVID was the largest cause of the decline in life expectancy for both men and women, per the CDC.

Whether life expectancy will turn around in 2022 remains unclear. Robert Anderson, chief of mortality statistics at CDC's National Center for Health Statistics (which issued the report), commented on life expectancy. He told HealthDay News that whether there is a continued decline will depend on COVID and other factors over the fall and winter.

Is it possible to lengthen your life?

While the COVID-19 pandemic has played a significant role in the decline in life expectancy in the United States, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and other chronic diseases were already putting people at risk of a shorter life span, per the National Institutes of Health.

However, experts continue to research what you can do to improve your health. Unsurprisingly, the results point to dedicating yourself to a healthy lifestyle. For instance, a 2020 study published in PLOS Medicine revealed that middle-aged people who have multiple health problems can expect to live up to seven years longer if they include exercise and a healthy diet as part of their lifestyle. The study was limited in that most of the participants were Caucasian. However, the researchers believe that studies including a more diverse population will likely show similar positive results, per the National Institute for Health and Care Research.

As far as specific measures you can take, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health recommends a healthy diet, exercising regularly, maintaining healthy body weight, watching your alcohol intake, and refraining from smoking. The results of a 2018 study published in Circulation revealed that if you simply maintain these five healthy habits, you have a chance of getting a whopping 10 additional years or more of life expectancy.