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COVID-19 wiped out a decade of life expectancy gains, WHO says

COVID-19 was not the only reason life expectancy dropped in 2021; obesity and malnutrition also played a role, the World Health Organization said.
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Posted at 10:12 AM, May 27, 2024

The World Health Organization said the COVID-19 pandemic reduced life expectancies around the world and erased a decade of health improvements.

The WHO said that between 2019 and 2021, global life expectancy dropped by 1.8 years to 71.4 years. COVID-19 became one of the leading causes of death in 2020. According to the group, it was the third-leading cause of death in 2020 and the second-leading cause in 2021.

Obesity and malnutrition are also increasing worldwide at an alarming rate. Over 1 billion people age 5 years and older were living with obesity, while more than half a billion were underweight, the WHO said.

The United States experienced a drop in life expectancy in 2020 and 2021, but data shows a slight rebound in 2022. U.S. life expectancy at birth increased to 77.5 years as of 2022, up from 76.4 in 2021 to 77 in 2020. The average life expectancy in the U.S. before the pandemic was 78.8 years.

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One major reason for the increase in overall life expectancy in 2022 in the U.S. was the sudden decrease in COVID-19-related deaths compared to 2021. There were also improvements in heart disease, cancer, homicide and unintentional injury deaths.

The WHO lists 17 sustainable goals that help people live healthier and longer. These goals include health, fighting hunger and promoting education. However, the WHO says none are within reach right now, and the situation is even more dire for disabled or migrant people.

"In school, a failing card or a failing grade may mean the need to repeat a year or a class," said Dr. Samira Asma, WHO assistant director-general for the Data, Analytics and Delivery for Impact Division. "Failing our report card means that people who should be alive and healthy are sick or dying. We can't repeat the test."

She added that it's essential to learn from countries making progress and fund efforts to get the world's health back on track.