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US life expectancy declined nearly 2 years in 2020, CDC says

COVID-19 was the third leading cause of death in 2020, behind heart disease and cancer.

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Life expectancy in the US declined by nearly two years in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in the country. For the US population as a whole, life expectancy was 77 years in 2020, a decrease of 1.8 years from 2019, according to data released Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Life expectancy, a metric used when looking at population health and well-being, refers to the expected average number of years of life remaining for a person at a given age -- in this case at birth, presuming that the mortality patterns of 2020 remain unchanged. The CDC said the decrease in life expectancy from 2019 to 2020 is the "largest single-year decrease in more than 75 years."

COVID-19 was the third leading cause of death in 2020, behind heart disease and then cancer, according to the CDC. The coronavirus-driven disease was the underlying cause for 350,831 deaths in the US in 2020, a little over 10% of all deaths last year. In total, more than 800,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. 

The COVID-19 vaccines authorized in the US have proven to be highly effective in preventing hospitalization and death, with people who are unvaccinated being over 10 times more likely to be hospitalized if infected. On Tuesday, President Joe Biden outlined the administration's plan to address rising cases in the US propelled by the omicron variant, saying it's a "patriotic duty" to get vaccinated and get a booster shot. 

From 2019 to 2020, death rates increased for several other leading causes of death, including unintentional injuries, which includes drug overdoses, stroke, Alzheimer disease and diabetes.

A study published in September in the International Journal of Epidemiology found that the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to mortality increases around the globe in 2020. 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.

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