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Life expectancy in the United States fell for a second consecutive year due to COVID-19 deaths and drug overdoses, falling to the shortest lifespan since 1996, according to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The report, issued Dec. 22, updates preliminary data released in August, using death certificates tracked by the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics for estimates, focusing on changes from 2020 through 2021. 

According to the data, Americans born in 2021 are expected to live 76.4 years, on average, down from 77 years in 2020. Death rates increased for every age group, up by 5.3% from 2020 to 2021 for the total population, compared with a 16.8% increase in death rates from 2019 to 2020.

Death rates increased 3.8% for people aged 65 to 74, 2.4% for those 75 to 84, and 3.5% for those aged 85 or more years.

In 2021, life expectancy for all older adults at age 65 was 18.4 more years, down 0.1 year from 2020. For women, life expectancy at age 65 decreased from 19.8 more years in 2020 to 19.7 more years in 2021. For males at age 65, life expectancy remained unchanged from 2020 at 17 more years. 

Heart disease (increasing 3% over 2020), cancer (up 1.7%) and COVID-19 (up 22.5% from 2020) remained the top three leading causes of death in 2021. 

Other top 10 leading causes of death also increased from 2020 — No. 4, unintentional injuries, which includes drug overdoses, climbed 12.3%; rates for No. 5, stroke, increased 5.9%; No. 8, diabetes, increased 2.4%; No. 9, chronic liver disease and cirrhosis, climbed 9%; and No. 10, kidney disease, rose 7.1%. 

Death rates attributed to No. 6, chronic lower respiratory diseases, decreased 4.7% over 2020, whereas death rates for No. 7, Alzheimer’s disease, dropped 4.3%.

The 10 leading causes of death accounted for 74.5% of all US deaths in 2021.