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Missouri life expectancy drops 2 years amid COVID-19 and increases in other causes of deaths

Missouri life expectancy drops 2 years amid COVID-19 and increases in other causes of deaths

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Sunrise at The Gateway Arch in St. Louis

Sunrise at The Gateway Arch in St. Louis on Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2020. Photo by Cheyenne Boone, cboone@post-dispatch.com

JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri’s life expectancy tumbled more than two years in 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic and increases in other causes of death, according to a new report by the Department of Health and Senior Services.

Missouri’s life expectancy in 2020 fell by 2.1 years, from 77.4 to 75.3 years, the lowest life expectancy in more than a quarter-century, according to the August edition of “Focus,” from the state Bureau of Vital Statistics.

The report helps tell the story of COVID-19’s toll on the state, but Missouri also logged double-digit increases in other causes of death, including a 12% rise in unintentional injury deaths, an 11% increase in diabetes deaths, and a 13% increase in pneumonia and influenza deaths.

“COVID-19 dominated Missouri vital statistics in 2020, especially mortality,” the report said, adding that a nearly 19% increase in deaths last year was the highest year-over-year jump in mortality since the Spanish flu pandemic in 1918.

The decrease in life expectancy was more pronounced in males than females, the report said.

Male life expectancy dropped 2.3 years, to 72.3 years.

The life expectancy for females, meanwhile, fell 1.9 years, to 78.4 years.

The 6.1-year gap is the widest since 1997, the report said.

The state’s life expectancy dropped after increasing 0.4 years in 2019. That increase followed a slight drop in 2018.

Missouri’s life expectancy was two years less than the national life expectancy of 77.3 years, the report said, and was the lowest life expectancy recorded in the state since 1994.

The article confirms preliminary findings earlier this year that Missouri recorded a natural decrease in population for the first time since state health officials began tracking centralized data more than a century ago.

A natural decrease occurs when the state records more deaths than births. Missouri was one of 25 states to record a natural decrease last year, according to a University of New Hampshire analysis.

Deaths from heart disease and cancer were the only causes of death that outnumbered COVID-19 mortalities in 2020, the report said.

In addition to COVID-19, deaths “increased in 2020 for all of the other 10 leading causes of death,” the report said, adding part of the increase could be due to patients putting off care “because of fear of being infected with COVID.”

“It’s also possible that some of these increases in chronic disease deaths were due to under-reported COVID-related deaths,” the report said.

The report said opioid-related deaths also increased more than 25% last year.

“The COVID pandemic may have contributed to the opioid mortality increase as people were more isolated and unable to access services,” the state health department said. It said nearly nine in 10 deaths were fentanyl-related.

The state also experienced a record number of homicides in 2020, the report said, with 802 Missourians dying because of another person, a 28% jump from 2019.

The number of suicides was similar to 2019 but was up 30% since 2010, the report said.

“The use of firearms is a factor in both suicides and homicides,” the report said. “Firearm-related deaths increased by 14% from 2019 to 2020.”

The state logged a record-low infant mortality rate, at 5.7 deaths per 1,000 live births, and also recorded a decrease in the rate of low birth weights after a record high in 2019, the report said.

Marriages and divorces also fell in 2020, continuing a trend, “but decreases may have been accelerated by the pandemic as weddings were postponed and courthouses were closed.”

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