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Study: Native Americans' Lifespan Reduced Most by COVID-19

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Thursday, July 14, 2022   

New research shows COVID-19 caused life expectancy to drop for all groups of Americans, but none as much as American Indians and Native Alaskans.

Research from the University of Colorado estimates during the 2020-2021 pandemic, life expectancy for U.S. Native Americans declined by nearly five years, about three times that of white residents.

Ryan Masters, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Colorado-Boulder and co-author of the study, said after noting longevity had slipped three-and-a-quarter years among Black Americans and nearly four years among Hispanics, he did not expect worse news.

"The horrific drops among Hispanic population were really sobering," Masters recounted. "We were expecting something of that magnitude, but to see declines that were even greater was really a tragic, terrifying result that we saw."

Native Americans make up just 1.7% of the U.S. population, but more than 10% of the New Mexico population. Masters reported by 2021, life expectancy for Native Americans had slipped to about age 70 for women, and just under 64 for men. Overall, U.S. life expectancy decreased from around 79 years in 2019 to about 76 years in 2021, or approximately 2.5 years.

As vaccines became available last year, Masters pointed out peer countries began to rebound from a historic 2020 dip in life expectancy while the U.S. experienced even higher losses. He added deaths among minority groups played a huge role, including for those younger than 60.

"There was also some substantial losses of life in these midlife years," Masters outlined. "Due to cardio-metabolic diseases, drug overdoses, and unfortunately due to injuries caused by firearms and transportation accidents."

Masters added a similar life-expectancy decline hasn't been seen since World War II. The study, which has not been peer-reviewed, noted nearly one-million Americans died from COVID-19 during the two-year pandemic, blamed partly on the quality of public health options and the high cost of insurance and prescription drugs.


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