Americans are now living longer than years prior — with a life expectancy of 78.7 years — according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But overall, African-American males continue to die younger, with heart disease and homicide shortening their lives.
White females have the longest life expectancy at 81.3 years, black females at 78 years, white males at 76.5 years and black males have the shortest at 71.8 years.
The report, released Thursday, highlights the causes of death that affect the differences in life expectancy between blacks and whites — namely, heart disease, cancer, homicide and diabetes.
“We expected heart disease and cancer, those are still the main focus, but what’s interesting is when you look at the graph for males, you see how important homicide is for directly affecting life expectancy for African-Americans,” says Kenneth D. Kochanek, lead author of the report and statistician with the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics.
For black males, homicide decreased life expectancy by almost a year. Heart disease was the most significant cause of death affecting the disparity in life expectancy, but for black males, homicide was number two — ahead of cancer and stroke.
“We have to look at [violence and homicide] like a disease,” says Dr. Robert Gore, emergency medical physician at Kings County-SUNY Downstate Hospitals and executive director of KAVI — the Kings Against Violence Initiative in Brooklyn. “There are over 700,000 reported violent acts per year involving U.S. youth presenting to our hospitals. We have to stop looking at violence as a purely social problem.”
The majority of homicides involve youth and young adults between the ages of 10 and 24. In fact, it’s the number one cause of death among black males in this age group. And despite making up just 13 percent of the population, the FBI reports that half of the homicide victims in 2011 were black.
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Dr. Tyeese Gaines is a physician-journalist with over 10 years of print and broadcast experience, now serving as health editor for MSNBC’s theGrio.com. Dr. Ty is a practicing emergency medicine physician in New Jersey and clinical instructor of emergency medicine at Yale School of Medicine. Follow her on twitter at @doctorty.