U.S. Life Expectancy Rises as Homicides Lessen

U.S. life expectancy climbed to a new high in 2010 as fewer people died from heart disease and cancer, and homicide was no longer among the 15 leading causes of death, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

Homicides fell 3.6 percent in 2010, dropping off the CDC’s tally of leading causes of death and other vital U.S. statistics for the first time in 45 years, according to preliminary data released today by the agency. Life expectancy increased to about 78.7 years.

The homicide rate in 2010 was “the lowest it’s been since 1962,” accounting for 5.3 cases for every 100,000 people, Sherry Murphy, the report’s lead author, said today in a telephone interview. Killings have been among the top 15 causes of death since 1965.

Pneumonitis, an inflammation of the lungs caused by airborne irritants, chemotherapy or radiation therapy, replaced homicide as the 15th biggest cause of death in 2010, according to the report. While heart disease and cancer remained the top two leading killers, accounting for 47 percent of fatalities, deaths from heart disease declined 2.4 percent to 179 per 100,000 people, while cancer-related deaths dropped 0.6 percent to 173 per 100,000, according to the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics.

Living Longer

Almost 2.46 million people died in the U.S. in 2010, a 1.2 percent increase from the previous year, according to data compiled from death certificates provided by all 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories. Children born in 2010 can expect to live 37 days longer than those who entered the world just a year earlier, the CDC said.

The homicide findings aren’t a surprise because murders in the U.S. have been declining since the early 1990s, said John Eck, a professor of criminal justice at the University of Cincinnati.

“It is a surprise to those who cling to the notion that bad economic times cause crime to go up,” Eck said today in an e-mail. “But the evidence for this has been weak at best and this idea has probably always been more of a myth than a reality.”

It’s a “a sign of the times” that homicide is no longer among the nation’s 15 top causes of death, said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a nonprofit in Washington.

“I don’t think it’s possible to point to any one factor, but I do think we have seen major changes in how police and how the community respond to crime” over the past decade, Wexler said today in an interview.

Homicide Prevention

Los Angeles and Chicago are among cities where police now focus “not only on who did some crime, but on how they can prevent the next crime,” such as retaliation for a gang-related murder, Wexler said.

The national mortality rate, calculated according to 2010 census data, declined to a record low of 746.2 deaths for every 100,000 people, from 749.6 in 2009.

In addition to declines for heart disease and cancer, death rates dropped for five other leading causes of death. Influenza and pneumonia-related fatalities dropped by a combined 8.5 percent, while deaths from blood infections dropped 3.6 percent. Fatal respiratory diseases, strokes and accidents also declined.

Mortality rates increased for five leading causes of death, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s

Deaths from Alzheimer’s disease rose 3.3 percent in 2010 to 25 fatalities per 100,000 people, while Parkinson’s-related mortality increased 4.6 percent to 7 deaths for every 100,000 people, according to the report. Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s retained their rankings from the previous year as the nation’s 6th and 14th leading causes of death.

The increase in deaths from Alzheimer’s may be partly a result of “changes in terminology” on death certificates that specify the disease instead of a “more generic dementia term,” Murphy said.

The mortality rate from Parkinson’s has been “trending up” in recent years, “but we can’t really say why that’s happening,” she said.

Suicide also kept its spot as the 10th leading cause of death in 2010, as the number of Americans who took their own lives rose 2.4 percent to 37,793 from 36,909 in 2009.

While the CDC had previously reported that there were 36,547 suicides in the U.S. in 2009, and 741 deaths for every 100,000 people, the agency revised its 2009 mortality rates in today’s report based on population data from the 2010 census.

To contact the reporter on this story: Molly Peterson in Washington at mpeterson9@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Adriel Bettelheim at abettelheim@bloomberg.net

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