Study: Racial disparities in early deaths among black adults narrowing compared to whites in U.S.

Racial disparities when it comes to early deaths are narrowing in the U.S., according to a study published in PLOS ONE on Wednesday.

Researchers credited reductions in years of life lost among black adults for the narrowing gap, in particular pointing to declining heart disease, HIV and cancer death rates—particularly among black adults in their 30s and 40s—for the improvement.

The study, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, relied on an extensive death records database called the Mortality Information and Research Analytics system maintained by the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health.

"It is very welcome news that public health interventions appear to be working to improve health and save lives," said senior author Donald S. Burke, M.D., who is the dean of Pitt Public Health. "Unfortunately, despite the improvement, there is still a substantial racial gap in early death rates, but if current trends persist this gap should continue to narrow.”

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    In all, the years of life lost among black adults dropped by 28% over the 25-year period starting in 1990, researchers found.

    Asian individuals had lower rates of years of life lost for all causes of death for every age group.

    But researchers also raised alarms about increasing years of life lost among women who are white or American Indian/Alaskan native. For example, the years of life lost among white, Hispanic and American Indian women between the ages of 25 and 52 increased 26% in that time, attributed primarily to drug overdoses.

    They also pointed to continuing areas of concern. For instance, researchers found homicide deaths among black men decreased in the 1990s but haven't dropped since 1999.

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    She said the team plans to add geography to its future analyses to better direct public health resources and determine which areas of the U.S. have been more successful in preventing early death and why.