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Covid pandemic brings biggest cut to global life expectancy since World War 2, says study

Life expectancy in 2020 was cut short the most since the Second World War in Western Europe and the breakup of the Soviet Union in Eastern Europe because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The pandemic’s impact on life expectancy, one of the most widely used metrics to assess population health, was assessed by a study published on Monday in the International Journal of Epidemiology.

The study was conducted by the Oxford University’s Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science.

Women from 15 countries and men from 10 ended up with a lower life expectancy at birth in 2020 compared to 2015, revealed the study.

The biggest drops in life expectancy, however, were witnessed in men instead of women in most countries.

American men were the worst off, with 2.2 years shaved off their life expectancy at birth. Men in Lithuania faced the second largest impact on their life expectancy, with a cut of 1.7 years.

Recent figures from Britain’s Office for National Statistics – separate from this research – also showed that life expectancy for men fell in the country after 40 years.

Documented life-expectancy reductions of at least a year occurred among men in 11 countries and among women in eight countries.

Reductions in life expectancy overall occurred in 27 of the 29 countries analysed by the study.

Only men and women in Denmark and Norway and women in Finland managed to successfully avoid drops in life expectancy, the study said.

Non-pharmaceutical interventions and strong healthcare systems in these countries were cited as factors that could help explain this.

Life expectancy in 22 countries, however, fell by more than six months.

All the countries where life expectancy dropped had taken an average of 5.6 years to achieve just a one-year increase in life expectancy.

The pandemic wiped out all of this progress, the study said.

“The fact that our results highlight such a large impact that is directly attributable to Covid-19 shows how devastating a shock it has been for many countries,” Ridhi Kashyap, a co-lead author of the study, was quoted as saying by Reuters.

A rise in mortality in the US emerged primarily from those of working age and under 60, an age group that “contributed most to life-expectancy losses for males,” said the study.

In Europe, deaths among people over 60 were more prevalent.

The study pointed out some reasons why the pandemic had such a large impact on life expectancy.

Uneven healthcare access and structural racism were two such factors it singled out, saying that life-expectancy losses can “vary substantially” between subgroups within countries.

“Recent research from the USA, for example, shows that socially disadvantaged populations such as Blacks and Latinos experienced losses three times higher than those reported here at the national level,” the study said.

The study’s authors also pointed out their inability to assess life-expectancy impacts in low- and middle-income countries, pointing to a lack of access of data.

The study was “only able to include two countries outside of Europe with reliable and complete information for 2020,” it said.

“We urgently call for the publication and availability of more disaggregated data to better understand the impacts of the pandemic globally,” Dr Kashyap added.


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