Life expectancy gap narrows between blacks, whites

Posted June 06, 2012, at 8:41 p.m.

LOS ANGELES — The gap in life expectancy between black and white Americans is smaller than it has ever been, thanks largely to a decline in the number of deaths resulting from heart disease and HIV infection, a new analysis has found.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that the gap is still large: A black baby boy born today can expect to live 5.4 fewer years, on average, than his white counterpart, and a black baby girl will die 3.7 years earlier, on average, than her white counterpart.

What’s more, the narrowing of the gap between 2003 and 2008 is due in part to a troubling development among whites: They are more likely than in the past to die from overdoses of powerful prescription medications like OxyContin and Vicodin, along with other unintentional poisonings.

The report, published in Wednesday’s edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association, is based on government data on U.S. deaths in 2008, the most recent year that was available at the time of the study.

Since 2003, life expectancy “improved for everybody, but it improved a little bit more for blacks than it did for whites,” said epidemiologist Sam Harper of McGill University in Montreal, senior author of the report.

The life expectancy for black men in 2008 was 70.8 years, up from 68.8 years in 2003 but still well below the 76.2 years for white men (who had an average life span of 75.3 years in 2003), Harper and his colleagues found. Life expectancy for black women rose from 75.7 to 77.5 years, while the life span for white women grew from 80.3 years to 81.2 years.

The study included data only for non-Latino whites and non-Latino blacks. The government has only recently compiled the first life-expectancy tables for Latinos, who have an edge of several years over non-Latino whites for reasons that are not yet clear.

Tables for Asians, whose life expectancy is believed to be the best of all groups living in the U.S., and for American-Indians are not yet available, Harper added.

New massacre in Syria reported as pressure on Assad mounts

BEIRUT — There were unconfirmed reports of a fresh massacre in Syria on Wednesday as representatives from 55 countries assembled in Washington to explore ways to sharpen the impact of economic sanctions against the Syrian government.

The reports said dozens of civilians in a small village near the central city of Hama were slain by pro-government militias Wednesday afternoon, echoing the circumstances of the killings of more than 100 people in the village of Houla on May 25.

Two activists in Hama said Wednesday that at least 30 people, and possibly many more, had been killed in Qubair, northwest of Hama, after the pro-government militias known as the shabiha raided the village. Government forces had blocked roads leading to the village and prevented activists from gathering evidence of the killings, they said.

But one of the activists, Asem Abu Mohammed, said he had received frantic calls for help from people in the village starting in the late afternoon.

Another activist, Mousab al-Hamadi, said people in the village told him that many women and children were among those who had been hacked to death with knives by the militiamen.

Senior Obama administration officials invoked the Houla massacre multiple times Wednesday as they sought to encourage allies to toughen sanctions against Syria. The carnage in Houla represents one of the bloodiest incidents of the 14-month-old uprising against President Bashar Assad. More than 10,000 people have died in the conflict, according to U.N. estimates.

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