Despite recent improvements, health disparities persist among racial and ethnic groups, according to a new report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Racially driven disparities remain across all health indicators, said Julia Holmes, the social scientist who oversaw the team that compiled this year’s 39th installment of the congressionally mandated report. The report examines life expectancy and infant mortality, as well as health risk factors, access to health insurance, medical care and more.
Today, African-Americans on average live 75.6 years, more than seven years longer than they did in 1980. However, the current rate only brings African-Americans on-par with the life expectancy that whites reported in 1987. Today, white Americans’ life expectancy is age 79.
Life Expectancy in the U.S.
Life Expectancy at birth by race 1980–2014
Those disparities crop up at birth, according to the report. For example, a black child is still more likely to die before his first birthday than children from any other racial or ethnic group, but government data shows that disparity is shrinking.
The infant mortality rate among black children tapered to 11 infant deaths per 1,000 live births in 2013, down since 1999 from about 14 deaths. By comparison, the same rate among Asian and Pacific Islander infants was about four deaths, the report said.
Globally, the United States ranks in 25th place for infant mortality, far behind Japan, Finland and Norway, which lead the world, but just ahead of the Czech Republic and Turkey, according to 2012 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development data.
Pregnancy among girls age 15 to 19 fell 40 percent between 2004 and 2014 to 24 live births per 1,000 females, the report said. That finding supports earlier research that suggested improved policies targeting teen birth lowered the rate and may ultimately help slow population growth.
On the other end of the life spectrum, the top three causes for death in 2014 included heart disease, cancer and chronic lower respiratory diseases. Over the last decade, deaths from heart disease have dropped by one quarter. From cancer, that figure has fallen 14 percent.
At the same time, the suicide rate rose nationwide, and deaths that involved heroin increased five times, now accounting for about three deaths out of every 100,000 U.S. residents, the report said.