ATLANTA -- Life expectancy in the United States has climbed to an all-time high of nearly 77 years, while infant mortality has dropped to the lowest level on record, the government reported Wednesday.
A government study of death certificates nationwide put U.S. life expectancy at 76.9 years for someone born in 2000, up from 76.7 in 1999, the National Center for Health Statistics said. Infant mortality dropped last year to 6.9 deaths for every 1,000 live births.
Death rates also fell for the nation's leading killers, including heart disease, cancer and stroke.
''It's a relatively optimistic report,'' said Ari Minino, an NCHS statistician and an author of the study. ''It shows if you follow what's generally deemed a good lifestyle, and you have good genes, you can beat a lot of stuff that can get in your way.''
Life expectancy has been rising steadily for years.
Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson credited advances in fighting disease, and urged Americans to eat right and exercise regularly to stay healthy.
But even as life expectancy creeps up, surveys continually show Americans getting less active and more obese, putting them at risk for heart disease and diabetes, among other illnesses.
Another worry: Death rates are rising for some diseases that afflict primarily older people, including Alzheimer's disease and pneumonitis, which scars the lungs.
''It may be just a product of the fact that a larger proportion of us are older,'' Minino said.
To figure life expectancy, statisticians considered a hypothetical group of people born in 2000, then projected how long they would live based on today's health risks and demographics. The number does not take into account medical breakthroughs that might happen years from now to extend those lives even further.
Among whites, life expectancy was put at 77.4 last year, compared with 71.8 among blacks. Both races had higher life expectancies than they did in 1999, with blacks narrowing the gap by about four months.
The continued drop in infant mortality is largely because mortality for black infants has declined significantly. That may be because the booming 1990s economy expanded the availability of quality health care, Minino said.
The gender gap for life expectancy also narrowed, but women continue to live considerably longer than men -- 79.5 years versus 74.1.
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National Center for Health Statistics: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs
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