Improvement in racial disparities in years of life lost in the USA since 1990.


60 million death reports from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) were categorized by age group, sex, race, and cause of death. YLL were calculated using age-specific life expectancies. Age groups were: infants <1, children 1-19, adults 20-64, and older adults 65+.

To examine changes in cause-specific Years of Life Lost (YLL) by age, race, and sex group in the USA from 1990 to 2014.

Race-based disparities in YLL in the USA since 1990 have narrowed considerably, largely as a result of improvements among blacks compared to whites. Adult white and American Indian / Alaskan Native females have experienced worsening YLL, while white males have experienced essentially no change. If recent trajectories continue, adult black/white disparities in YLL will continue to narrow.

Blacks have historically experienced more years of life lost than whites or other racial groups in the USA. In the year 1990 the YLL per 100,000 population was 21,103 for blacks, 14,160 for whites, and 7,417 for others. Between 1990 and 2014 overall YLL in the USA improved by 10%, but with marked variations in the rate of change across age, race, and sex groups. Blacks (all ages, both sexes) showed substantial improvement with a 28% reduction in YLL, compared to whites (all ages, both sexes) who showed a 4% reduction. Among blacks, improvements were seen in all age groups: reductions of 43%, 48%, 28%, and 25% among infants, children, adults, and older adults, respectively. Among whites, reductions of 33%, 44%, and 18% were seen in infants, children, and older adults, but there was a 6% increase in YLL among white adults. YLL increased by 18% in white adult females and declined 1% in white adult males. American Indian/Alaska Native women also had worsening in YLL, with an 8% increase. Asian Pacific Islanders consistently had the lowest YLL across all ages. Whites had a higher proportion of YLL due to overdose; blacks had a higher proportion due to homicide at younger ages and to heart disease at older ages.

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Donald Burke

Distinguished University Professor of Health Science and Policy
University of Pittsburgh