A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds that life expectancy in the US is at an all-time high.
Life expectancy at birth among the US population - defined as "the average number of years that a group of infants would live if the group was to experience throughout life the age-specific death rates present in the year of birth" - increased from 78.7 years in 2011 to 78.8 years in 2012. This is the longest life expectancy ever recorded.
The report authors, from the National Center for Health Statistics, Division of Vital Statistics at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), say this increase can be attributed to a reduction in many major causes of death, such as cancer, heart disease and stroke.
To reach their findings, the authors compared final mortality data on deaths and death rates from 2012 with that of 2011.
As well as overall life expectancy estimates, the authors investigated age-adjusted death rates by ethnicity and sex, the 10 leading causes of death and the 10 leading causes of infant death.
Women's life expectancy continues to be higher than men's
Although life expectancy has increased over the total US population, women are still expected to live longer than men.
The report reveals that in 2012, the life expectancy for females stood at 81.2 years, while the life expectancy for men was 76.4 years. This difference of 4.8 years is the same as reported in 2011.
At the age of 65 years, life expectancy for the total population also saw an increase, from 19.2 years in 2011 to 19.3 years in 2012.
Again, women aged 65 had a longer life expectancy than men of the same age, at 20.5 years in 2011 and 17.9 years in 2012. The authors say the life expectancy difference between men and women aged 65 increased by 0.1 years in 2011-12, from 2.5 years to 2.6 years.
On analyzing the age-adjusted death rate for the entire non-Hispanic US population, the authors found that it had fallen by 1.2%, from 759.2 per 100,000 people in 2011 to 749.8 per 100,000 in 2012.
The age-adjusted death rate declined by 1.2% in 2011-12 for non-Hispanic white males, while non-Hispanic black males saw a 1.1% reduction. Non-Hispanic white females also had a 1.1% decline in age-adjusted death rate, while non-Hispanic black females saw the largest reduction, at 2.3%.
Declines in age-adjusted death rates for eight leading causes of death
The authors say that the 10 leading causes of death - which account for 73.8% of all deaths in the US - were the same as reported in 2011.
However, the authors found that for eight of these leading causes of death, age-adjusted death rates had seen significant decline in 2011-12.
Influenza and pneumonia saw an 8.3% decline in death rates, while kidney disease saw a 2.2% reduction. Death rates for heart disease, cancer and chronic lower respiratory disease fell by 1.8%, 1.5% and 2.4%, respectively. There was a 2.6% reduction in death rates for stroke, a 3.6% reduction for Alzheimer's and a 1.9% decline for diabetes.
The authors note that death rates for unintentional injuries were the same in 2012 as in 2011, while death rates from suicide increased by 2.4%.
Medical News Today's Knowledge Center article on the top 10 causes of death in the US looks at each cause in more detail.
The authors also found a decline in infant mortality rates. There were 23,629 deaths among children under the age of 1 year - 356 fewer than in 2011. There were 597.8 deaths per 100,000 lives births in 2012, a 1.5% reduction from the 606.7 deaths per 100,000 reported in 2011.
The 10 leading causes of infant death in 2012 were the same as reported in 2011 and account for 69.8% of all infant deaths in the US.
But the authors found there was a 12% decline in deaths from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) - the third leading cause of infant death. SIDS death rates fell from 48.3 per 100,000 in 2011 to 42.5 in 2012.
There were no significant changes found in the remaining nine leading causes of infant death.
Commenting on their overall findings, the authors say that although declines in death rates appear small year-by-year, they indicate positive long-term changes:
"Death rates in 2012 continued to decline among most groups defined by sex, race, and Hispanic origin. Although changes in mortality are relatively small from one year to the next, long-term trends show the apparent progress in reducing mortality. For example, the age-adjusted death rate in the US decreased 15.7% from 869.0 to 732.8 deaths per 100,000 standard population from 2000 to 2012."