The overall death rate for African-Americans in the U.S. has declined about 25 percent in recent years.
However, the life expectancy of African-Americans remains four years less than that of whites, according to the latest report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The report noted that younger African-Americans are more likely to live with or die from conditions typically found in older whites, like heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
Blacks saw notable declines in age-specific deaths related to heart disease, cancer and HIV from 1999 to 2015, said Timothy Cunningham, an epidemiologist at the CDC Division of Population Health and lead author of the new report.
“Death rates from HIV among Blacks went down about 80 percent in 18-to-49-year-olds,” Cunningham said.
Dramatic decreases in HIV deaths were seen among whites too, the data showed. Yet a racial disparity remains, as Blacks are still more likely to die from HIV, the report said.
The data also revealed that Blacks in the 18-to-34 and 35-to-49 age groups were nearly twice as likely to die from heart disease, stroke and diabetes as whites.
For African-Americans 18-to-64, data showed that they were at a higher risk of early death than whites.
“These findings are generally consistent with previous reports that use the term ‘weathering,’ which suggests that Blacks experience premature aging and earlier health decline than whites and that this decline in health accumulates across the entire lifespan and potentially across generations,” said Leandris Liburd, the director of the CDC’s Office of Minority Health and Health Equity.
“This happens as a consequence of psychosocial, economic and environmental stressors,” Liburd said.
For adults 65 and older, the racial death rate gap appeared to close, the data showed. In general, the leading causes of deaths for Blacks are heart disease, cancer and stroke, Liburd said.
“I can’t say enough that we need to continue to understand both the relationship between social and economic conditions and how they impact health disparities and then identify ways that we can work to improve those conditions,” she said. “African-American health is improving and many of the disparities we see in the chronic diseases are largely preventable.”
The new report also pointed to social and economic conditions, such as poverty, limited access to health care, educational attainment and home ownership, as factors influencing the racial health gaps that remain.
The report noted that Blacks have the highest death rate for all cancers combined compared with whites.
Also, in all age groups, Blacks were more likely than whites to describe not being able to visit a doctor in the past year due to cost, according to the report.
The National Urban League (NUL) recently released a separate report titled, “State of Black America 2017: Protect Our Progress.”
That report revealed that health index for Black Americans grew from 79.4 percent in 2016 to 80 percent, which was partly due to greater access to healthcare because of the Affordable Care Act and a decrease in the number of overweight children.
NUL President Marc Morial has urged the federal government to fully fund Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance program while preventing a switch to block grants.
He has also urged the government to protect the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the Emergency Food Assistance Program and the National School Lunch Program.
Meanwhile, Cunningham said it’s important to know that changes in mortality and life expectancy should be associated with improvements in health care access.
“Individual behaviors are important, but one challenge we face is that we have to invest in the places where people live,” he said.