Black-White Mortality Gap Narrows, Especially Among Elderly : Shots - Health News The CDC says the death rate for black Americans fell 25 percent over 17 years and was especially dramatic for those 65 and older. But young black people are still dying earlier than white Americans.
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Death Rate Among Black Americans Declines, Especially For Elderly People

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Death Rate Among Black Americans Declines, Especially For Elderly People

Death Rate Among Black Americans Declines, Especially For Elderly People

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/526433607/526607500" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

There's some positive news today from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about the health of African-Americans. Their overall death rate has gone down a lot over nearly two decades. NPR health correspondent Rob Stein reports.

ROB STEIN, BYLINE: For decades, the death rate among blacks has been much, much higher than for whites. But Timothy Cunningham of the CDC says that's finally starting to change.

TIMOTHY CUNNINGHAM: Our data show that the overall death rate for African-Americans has decreased by 25 percent from 1999 to 2015.

STEIN: The death rate for whites dropped, too, but not nearly as much. And so the gap between blacks and whites has narrowed.

CUNNINGHAM: The gap in 1999 between African-Americans and whites in overall mortality was about 33 percent. And in 2015, it has decreased to about 16 percent.

STEIN: So it's been cut almost in half. The biggest drop was among the elderly. Blacks 65 and older are now actually dying at a slightly lower rate than whites in that age group.

CUNNINGHAM: We're talking about African-Americans who were pretty young during the 1960s and the 1970s. And one thing we have to consider is that there have been significant improvements in socioeconomic status that are associated with civil rights policies.

STEIN: But Cunningham stresses that overall, blacks still tend to die about four years younger than whites, and the picture among younger blacks remains disturbing.

CUNNINGHAM: Many younger African-Americans are in their 20s, 30s and 40s, and they're living and dying with chronic conditions that we typically see at much older ages in the general population.

STEIN: Like high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease. There are lots of reasons for this. But Joseph Betancourt of the Massachusetts General Hospital says one is known as weathering. It's the toll that things like stress and poverty can take on someone's health.

JOSEPH BETANCOURT: Clearly racism and experiencing racism - that also contributes to this kind of, you know, weathering effect. You're in fight or flight mode, and so that has a real significant biological effect that contributes to premature aging.

STEIN: So there's clearly a lot more that needs to be done to continue to close the gap between the health and well-being of blacks and whites in the United States. Rob Stein, NPR News.

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