The COVID-19 pandemic has upended daily life around the world, causing a level of personal and economic damage that’s unprecedented in our lifetimes. It’s been particularly hard on people with diabetes, who face a higher risk of severe disease and poor outcomes from the viral infection — including a higher risk of hospitalization, admission to the intensive care unit (ICU) and death, with these outcomes linked to worse blood glucose control. Even if you don’t get COVID-19, the pandemic has had a devastating economic effect on people with diabetes, leading to high unemployment and worsening health.
So new data showing that COVID-19 caused life expectancy to drop in the United States in 2020 can be seen through a couple of different lenses — first as more bad news confirming the terrible toll of the pandemic, but also as a reminder of how deadly the raging virus is, and how important it is to take precautions to limit its spread.
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Bigger drop in life expectancy in Black, Latino population
In a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the federal agency found that during the first half of 2020, life expectancy for the U.S. population dropped exactly one year, to 77.8 from 78.8 in 2019. The drop was more severe for men, who saw a drop of 1.2 years from 76.3 to 75.1. For women, the drop was 0.9 years, from 81.4 to 80.5.
There was an even greater drop in life expectancy in the Black and Latino communities in the United States, not surprising given the disproportionate toll COVID-19 has had on these groups. During the same six-month period, life expectancy for Black people dropped by 2.7 years, from 74.7 to 72.0. For Latinos, it dropped by 1.9 years, from 81.8 to 79.9. Among non-Hispanic white people, the drop was just 0.8 years, from 78.8 to 78.0.
These drops in life expectancy make the 2020 numbers the lowest since 2006 for the total population, and the lowest since 2007 for women. For Black people, life expectancy dropped enough to make the 2020 number the same as it was in 2001. For Latinos, life expectancy dropped below what it was in 2006 (when it was 80.3), the first year in which the CDC recorded life expectancy for this group.
The CDC report doesn’t specifically state COVID-19 as the cause of the drop in life expectancy, but with excess weekly deaths by as much as 40% since the pandemic took widespread hold in the spring of 2020, there is little doubt that COVID-19 is to blame.
Gearing up for worse results in second half of 2020
While the newly released numbers aren’t surprising, but they are still horrifying, showing that over a decade of progress in public health — and nearly two decades in the case of Black Americans — can be wiped out in just six months. They also suggest that Black and Latino Americans are dying at a higher rate, and at younger ages, from COVID-19 than their white counterparts.
What’s more, these numbers may not even represent the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since deaths from the viral infection rose dramatically during the second half of 2020, the results for that six-month period — and for 2020 as a whole — are likely to be much worse.
As bad as these numbers are, they can serve as a reminder of how important it is to take precautions against the spread of COVID-19 very seriously until the pandemic abates. And if you have diabetes, now may be a good time to recommit yourself to the best possible blood glucose control you can achieve, so that your risk of severe disease and death is as low as possible if you do develop the viral infection.
Want to learn more about coronavirus and diabetes? Read our latest COVID-19 updates.