Life expectancy drops for Native Americans due to COVID-19 – Science Daily

Native Americans experienced disproportionately high rates of deaths from COVID-19 due to poverty, crowded housing, high rates of chronic disease, employment in frontline jobs, and limited access to quality health care.
Less is known about the pandemic’s effects on life expectancy for this population, which makes up 2% of the U.S. population.
Noreen Goldman of Princeton University and Theresa Andrasfay, Ph.D. ’20 of the University of Southern California investigated life expectancy at birth in 2020 and 2021 — when COVID-19 rates were surging — compared to 2019.
Life expectancy is a metric of population-level mortality in a given year, and it is sensitive to deaths at younger ages.
Findings
The pandemic set Native Americans further behind other major racial and ethnic groups in terms of life expectancy. For a high-income country, these figures are shockingly low, the researchers said, and far below every country in the Americas except for Haiti.
Although much of this decline resulted directly from COVID-19 deaths, mortality from several chronic diseases also increased substantially for Native Americans during the pandemic. Those with “long COVID” or comorbidities may have been more likely to die from non-COVID causes, and detrimental health behaviors like smoking, drinking, and drug use also became more prevalent during this time — all likely contributing to upticks in mortality rates.
Policy Point
Despite a successful vaccination campaign among Native Americans, the loss in life expectancy at birth in 2021 unexpectedly exceeds that in 2020. There are a few plausible explanations for this disturbing finding:
Most importantly, Native Americans continue to experience large social, economic, and health inequities, some of which have persisted for centuries, and all of which increase the risk of COVID-19 infection, hospitalization, and death.
“The large financial investment in the American Rescue Plan to enhance identification and treatment of COVID-19 infections and to strengthen the public health infrastructure for the Native American population is a significant step forward.” — Noreen Goldman, Princeton School of Public and International Affairs
Study Authors
Data
Goldman and Andrasfay used data on age-specific all-cause mortality rates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention WONDER online database and the 2019 life table recently released by the National Vital Statistics System for Native Americans to calculate life tables for the Native American population in 2020 and 2021 and to obtain estimates of life expectancy reductions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Funding
This study was supported in part by the National Institute on Aging (grant no. T32AG000037).
Resources
The paper, “Life Expectancy Loss Among Native Americans During the COVID-19 Pandemic,” was published July 27 by Demographic Research, a peer-reviewed, open-access journal of population studies. This work builds upon an earlier study by Goldman and Andrasfay.
Story Source:
Materials provided by Princeton School of Public and International Affairs. Original written by B. Rose Huber. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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