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New study suggests US racial gap in life expectancy shrinks

NEW YORK--Whites in the United States have typically lived longer on average than blacks, but a new study released on Tuesday suggests that gap in life expectancy may be shrinking.

The shift appears to be because fewer African Americans are dying of AIDS and heart disease, but also because more whites are dying in early and mid-adulthood from unintentional injuries — mainly poisonings, including prescription drug overdoses, researchers said.

“For the most part, blacks are making small but important gains in terms of life expectancy,” said Sam Harper of McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, the lead author of the new report, published as a research letter in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

“There's still quite a large gap in life expectancy for men and women, and that gap is still much larger than we would like it to be,” Harper told Reuters Health.

Using national data including life expectancy tables from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, he and his colleagues compared how long white and black men and women were expected to live as of 2003 and 2008.

Over that time, average lifespan increased among all groups. In men, it rose from 75.3 years to 76.2 for whites and from 68.8 to 70.8 for blacks. The greater increase among black men meant that the gap shrank from a difference of 6.5 years of expected life to 5.4 years.

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