WEDNESDAY, Sept. 12 (HealthDay News) -- Life expectancy rates in the United States are at an all-time high, with people born in 2005 projected to live for nearly 78 years, a new federal study finds.
The finding reflects a continuing trend of increasing life expectancy that began in 1955, when the average American lived to be 69.6 years old. By 1995, life expectancy was 75.8 years, and by 2005, it had risen to 77.9 years, according to the report, released Wednesday.
"This is good news," said report co-author Donna Hoyert, a health scientist at the National Center for Health Statistics. "It's even better news that it is a continuation of trends, so it is a long period of continuing improvement."
Despite the upward trend, the United States still has a lower life expectancy than some 40 other countries, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The country with the longest life expectancy is Andorra at 83.5 years, followed by Japan, Macau, San Marino and Singapore.
Much of the increase owes to declining death rates from the three leading causes of death in the country -- heart disease, cancer and stroke.
In addition, in 2005, the U.S. death rate dropped to an all time low of less than 800 deaths per 100,000.
"Yet mortality for Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease continue to increase," Hoyert said.
Hoyert also noted that women continue to outlive men. "The difference in 2005 was 5.2 years. This is the same as in 2004," she said. "But it's at the lowest level it has been at since 1946."
Racial disparities in death rates continue to exist. According to the report, life expectancy in 2005 for whites was 78.3, which was unchanged from 2004. For blacks, life expectancy was 73.2 years in 2005, up from 73.1 years in 2004.
And, the infant mortality rate increased from 6.79 per 1,000 births in 2004 to 6.89 in 2005. However, this increase was not considered statistically significant. The leading causes of infant death are birth defects, complications from preterm birth and low birth weight. The third leading cause of infant death in the United States is sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
The death rate from heart disease dropped from 217 deaths per 100,000 in 2004 to 210.3 in 2005. The death rate from cancer fell from 185.8 deaths per 100,000 in 2004 to 183.8 in 2005. And the death rate from stroke fell from 50 deaths per 100,000 in 2004 to 46.6 in 2005, according to the report.
These declines are due to medical advances, some improvements in lifestyle, and screening and diagnosis, Hoyert said.
However, deaths from Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease increased by about 5 percent between 2004 and 2005.
Factors that contributed to increasing rates of death from Alzheimer's and Parkinson's include the aging population, Hoyert said. "There is also better diagnosis and reporting of these diseases on death certificates," she said.
Hoyert said she expects the steady increase in life expectancy to continue.
The report, prepared by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics, is titled Deaths: Preliminary Data for 2005. It's based on about 99 percent of death records reported in all states for 2005.
S. Jay Olshansky, a professor of public health and senior research scientist at the University of Illinois Center on Aging, called the report's findings "excellent news."
"Whenever death rates from the three major killer diseases decline, the next question to ask is whether the additional survival time is healthy or unhealthy," he said. "I look forward to the additional analyses that reveal the answer to this question.
"It is my hope that healthy life expectancy continues to rise, but it is important to remember that what is being reported is period life expectancy at birth. This figure cannot reflect how the health status of younger cohorts will be expressed in subsequent years," Olshansky said.
Dr. David Katz, director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University School of Medicine, said, "News that life expectancy is increasing is, of course, good. But the evidence we have suggests that there is more chronic disease than ever in the U.S. Diabetes and obesity are both epidemic, and of particular concern. Death from heart disease and cancer may be declining, but not the rates of these diseases."
Adding years to life is a good thing, Katz said. "But adding vital life to years is at least equally important. If we care about living well, and not just longer, we still have our work cut out for us," he said.
To see the full report, visit the National Center for Health Statistics.
SOURCES: Donna Hoyert, Ph.D., health scientist, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics, Hyattsville, Md.; S. Jay Olshansky, Ph.D., professor, public health, and senior research scientist, Center on Aging, University of Illinois, Chicago; David Katz, M.D., M.P.H., director, Prevention Research Center, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Conn.; Sept. 12, 2007, Deaths: Preliminary Data for 2005