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COVID-19 pandemic causes devastating drop in global life expectancy, study finds

The study examined males and females in 29 countries between 2015 and 2020.

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A new study shows a decrease in life expectancy in 2020.

Sarah Tew/CNET
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The COVID-19 pandemic set off significant global mortality increases in 2020, according to a study published Sunday in the International Journal of Epidemiology. Females from 15 countries and males from 10 had a "lower life expectancy at birth in 2020 than in 2015," the researchers said.

Life expectancy, a metric used when looking at population health and longevity, refers to the average number of years a newborn could expect to live if they experienced the death rates observed at the time of their birth for their whole life. 

Life expectancy at birth declined from 2019 to 2020 in 27 out of the 29 countries examined in the study, which was led by scientists at the University of Oxford. Males in the US and Lithuania experienced the biggest losses in life expectancy, at 2.2 years and 1.7 years respectively. 

In July, the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics also reported that life expectancy in the US fell by 1.5 years in 2020. That's the biggest drop since World War II, according to NPR. 

"While we know that there are several issues linked to the counting of COVID-19 deaths, such as inadequate testing or misclassification, the fact that our results highlight such a large impact that is directly attributable to COVID-19 shows how devastating a shock it has been for many countries," said Dr. Ridhi Kashyap, an associate professor of social demography at Oxford and co-lead author of the study, in a statement on Sunday.

Researchers in the UK and Denmark came to these conclusions by building life tables by sex for 29 countries between 2015 and 2020.

As of last week, the COVID-19 pandemic had killed as many Americans as the Spanish flu in 1918 -- about 1 in 500 Americans. Unvaccinated people have accounted for more than 97% of hospitalizations and deaths.

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The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.