Americans are living longer, CDC reports Teen pregnancies, infant mortality, AIDS deaths decline


WASHINGTON -- Americans are living longer than ever, the infant death rate has reached an all-time low and the percentage of teen-agers giving birth has declined for the fifth straight year, with the drop among black teen-agers nearly double the decline among whites.

An analysis of the nation's vital statistics released yesterday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also found that AIDS, once the leading cause of death among people ages 25 to 44, is now the second-leading cause in that group, just behind accidents and directly ahead of cancer.

Officials of the CDC in Atlanta said the trends reflected "broad gains in the nation's health," and experts offered a variety of reasons for them.

Aggressive prevention campaigns, coupled with an increase in the use of condoms to combat sexually transmitted diseases, have fueled a drop in births to teen-agers.

More parents now put their babies to sleep on their backs, which has driven down the incidence of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, which in turn is driving down the infant mortality rate.

The report also shows a narrowing in the gap in life expectancy between blacks and whites, although whites can still expect to live more than six years longer.

The significant plunge in AIDS deaths -- 26 percent from 1995 to 1996 -- has helped to increase life expectancy, as have continuing declines in the incidence of heart disease and cancer.

The average American in 1996 could expect to live 76.1 years, up from 75.8 in 1995 -- a finding that Kimberly Peters, a government statistician who helped compile the report, said is statistically significant.

"Even though that looks like it is just a couple of months, it really is a big deal," she said. "We don't usually see such big changes."

The study found men increased their life expectancy by six months in 1996, to 73 years, gaining on women, whose life expectancy rose from 78.9 years to 79 years.

Dr. Richard Suzman, director of the Office of Demography at the National Institute on Aging in Bethesda, said closing the gap is important because "a very high fraction of female impoverishment in old age seems to be both indirectly and directly related to being widowed."

The life expectancy for black men and women also increased in 1996, to 70.3 years, up from 69.5 the previous year. For whites, life expectancy was 76.8 years, up from 76.5 in 1995.

The infant mortality rate reached a new low of 7.2 deaths per 1,000 births, the government reported, crediting a reduction in SIDS.

As it has since 1991, the birth rate among teen-agers decreased again in 1996, with a bigger decline among young teen-agers and especially big drops among black teen-agers. While the rate dropped 12 percent for teen-agers overall, the decline was 21 percent among black teen-agers.

Pub Date: 9/12/97

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