Coronavirus pandemic caused biggest decrease in life expectancy since WWII: Study

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The coronavirus pandemic caused the biggest decrease in life expectancy in western Europe since World War Two, researchers have found.

A new study, which involved collecting and analyzing data from several European countries as well as the US and Chile, found an apparent reduction in life expectancy since the pandemic’s onset, essentially wiping out years of progress, online news media the Guardian reported on Monday.


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The biggest decrease in life expectancy was found to be among males in the US, representing a decline of 2.2 years compared to the previously recorded levels in 2019, followed by Lithuanian males with a decline of 1.7 years.

The life expectancy losses recorded during the pandemic exceeded those recorded around the time of the dissolution of the eastern bloc in eastern and central Europe during the second world war, the study which was led by scientists at Oxford’s Leverhulme Center for Demographic Science found.

“For western European countries such as Spain, England and Wales, Italy, Belgium, among others, the last time such large magnitudes of declines in life expectancy at birth were observed in a single year was during the second world war,” co-lead author of the study, Dr. Jose Manuel Aburto, said.

After analyzing the death registrations of 29 countries, the study, which was published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, found that 27 of them experienced reductions in life expectancy.

“Females in eight countries and males in 11 countries experienced losses larger than a year. To contextualize, it took on average 5.6 years for these countries to achieve a one-year increase in life expectancy recently: progress wiped out over the course of 2020 by COVID-19,” Dr. Aburto added.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimated last week that the life expectancy of men in the UK fell for the first time in 40 years due to the pandemic.

It also found that boys born between 2018 and 2020 are expected to live until the age of 79, down from a previous average of 79.2 recorded between 2015 and 2017.

According to Aburto, the scale of the life expectancy losses was quite severe across most of the countries that were surveyed during the time period, with 22 of them recording larger losses than half a year during 2020.

“We urgently call for the publication and availability of more disaggregated data from a wider range of countries, including low- and middle-income countries, to better understand the impacts of the pandemic globally,” said another co-lead author, Dr. Ridhi Kashyap.

He also added that there was an array of issues linked to the counting of virus-related deaths. Some of these include inadequate testing and misclassification among others.

However, he said that “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.”

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