COVID-19 lowers life expectancy, especially for men in the US, study shows

A new study finds COVID-19 has wiped out years of progress made by several countries in improving life expectancy, including in the U.S. It is a sobering reminder of the pandemic’s toll across the globe.

The study is published in the International Journal of Epidemiology and analyzed the impact of COVID-19 on 29 countries. The study finds there was a loss in life expectancy in all but two.

"It just helps to underscore what kind of a toll this pandemic has taken not only on the United States, but the globe," explained University of South Florida College of Public Health associate professor of epidemiology, Dr. Jason Salemi.

Worldwide, the virus has caused devastation. About 4.75-million people have died from it, including more than 680,000 lives lost in the United States.

"Every place across the globe has tended to experience higher than expected mortality," Salemi said.

Researchers linked those COVID-19 deaths to a drop in life expectancy. The reductions were greater for men than women in most countries, with more than a year shaved off for males in 11 countries, and in eight countries among females. 

That wiped out the progress on mortality made over the last five to six years.

The largest decline was in American men, whose life expectancy fell by 2.2 years, compared to 2019.

"Because people are dying younger than they would have died in the absence of this pandemic, life expectancy, on the whole, has been reduced," said Salemi.

Life expectancy is the average age a newborn lives, if current death rates continue for their entire life. It does not predict an actual lifespan.

Still, experts say this should be a wakeup call.

"If we're able to start managing COVID-19 much in the way that we manage the seasonal flu, we have these booster doses.  We're being cognizant of the way that the virus mutates and new variants emerge. And we stay on top of things. We continue to break down barriers to vaccination. We should reduce the toll on an annual basis that this virus takes on our society," Salemi said.

As we get better at that, our life expectancy should start going back up.