Harvard Health Letter

In Brief: Great expectations

In Brief

Great expectations

We can't avoid dying, but Americans are putting it off longer than ever before, according to a batch of government health statistics.

Data for 2005 show that life expectancy at birth in the United States for that year was 77.9 years, a gain of just over seven years since 1970, although still considerably shorter than life expectancy in Japan and many European countries.

American lives are getting longer because the conditions most responsible for cutting them short — heart disease, cancer, stroke — are causing fewer deaths each year. The mortality rate from heart disease has declined steadily since the early 1980s. The mortality rate from cancer, the second leading cause of death, started to go down in the early 1990s. The rate for stroke has been decreasing since the 1950s.

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