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U.S. Death Rate Hits All-Time Low


HYATTSVILLE, Md. -- The U.S. death rate fell to a historic low in 2004 and the life expectancy at birth hit a record high, according to the National Center for Vital Statistics here.

HYATTSVILLE, Md., Aug. 22 -- The U.S. death rate fell to a historic low in 2004 and the life expectancy at birth hit a record high, according to the National Center for Vital Statistics here.

Final totals for the year show 2,397,615 deaths and an age-adjusted death rate of 800.8 deaths per 100,000 people.

That was 50,673 fewer deaths than in 2003 and represented the largest single-year decline in raw death counts since 1938, when deaths fell by 69,036 from the previous year.

At the same time, life expectancy at birth hit 77.8 years, continuing an increasing trend in the population as a whole and among both blacks and whites, according to the agency, part of the CDC.

"Generally, mortality patterns in 2004 were consistent with long-term trends," the agency report said.

The "remarkable reduction in the risk of dying," the report said, "has been driven mostly by net decreases in heart disease, cancer, stroke, chronic lower respiratory diseases, and influenza and pneumonia."

The study also found:

  • For nine of the 15 leading causes of death -- including heart disease, cancer, and stroke (the three leading causes) -- age-adjusted death rates decreased significantly from 2003 to 2004.
  • On the other hand, significant increases in mortality rates occurred for unintentional injuries, hypertension, and Alzheimer's disease.
  • The male life expectancy is creeping up on the female, with a difference of only 5.2 years, the smallest difference since 1946.
  • Age-adjusted death rates for men and women continued to converge: In 2004, the rate for men was 40.7% greater than the rate for women -- down from 40.8% greater in 2003.
  • Despite "a trend toward convergence," mortality difference between blacks and whites continued. For blacks, the age-adjusted death rate was 1.3 times greater, the infant mortality rate was 2.4 times greater, and maternal mortality rate was 3.7 times than for whites.
  • Life expectancy for whites was 5.2 years higher than for blacks.
  • The infant mortality rate was 6.79 per 1,000 births.

The leading causes of death remained the same, although Alzheimer's disease overtook and swapped positions with influenza. Heart disease and cancer continued to be the leading and second leading causes of death, together accounting for over one-half of all deaths.

The agency noted that deaths from Alzheimer's continue a rapid rise, because of improvements in diagnosis, awareness of the condition within the medical community, changes in ICD coding and selection rules, and other unidentified factors.

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