Americans' Life Expectancy
Rose to Record High in 2003

March 1, 2005; Page D8

Life expectancy in the U.S. climbed to a record in 2003, as deaths from heart disease and cancer declined.

According to information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, average life expectancy rose to 77.6 years in 2003 from 77.3 years in 2002.

Women still live longer on average than men. But the gender gap continued to narrow, to 5.3 years from the peak gap of 7.8 years in 1979.

In 2003, white women lived an average of 80.5 years, while black women lived an average of 76.1 years. White men lived an average of 75.4 years and black men lived an average of 69.2 years.

The death rate -- which has mostly been trending down since 1900 -- declined to a record low of 831.2 deaths per 100,000 people, 1.7% lower than 2002.

Death rates fell for eight of the 15 leading causes of death, with rates for the top two causes -- heart disease and cancer -- falling 3.6% and 2.2%, respectively. Deaths from heart disease and cancer account for more than half of U.S. deaths annually.

Death rates from stroke declined 4.6%, while deaths from flu and pneumonia fell a combined 3.1%. The CDC said a large decline in pneumonia deaths offset a 150% increase in influenza deaths in 2003. Alcohol-related deaths declined 4.3% and deaths by suicide fell 3.7%.

The death rate from HIV continued an eight-year decline, falling 4.1% in 2003. Deaths from homicide fell out of the top 15 causes of death in 2003 compared with 2002.

Deaths from Parkinson's disease continued a two-decade increase, rising by 3.4% in 2003 and ranking as the 14th-leading cause of deaths that year. Deaths from Alzheimer's disease increased 5.9% and were the eighth-leading cause of deaths, while kidney disease and hypertension deaths rose 5.7%.

The overall death rate from accidents, which ranked as the fifth-leading cause of death, fell 2.2%. Deaths from accidents in the workplace declined 13% in 2003 compared with 2002.

The infant-mortality rate stayed roughly the same at 6.9 deaths for every 1,000 live births in 2003 from 2002, the year which represented the first increase in the infant mortality rate in 44 years.

Write to Jennifer Corbett Dooren at jennifer.corbett-dooren@dowjones.com1