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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Life expectancy in the United States has increased to almost 78 years, the country's highest on record, amid a downturn in deaths from heart disease, cancer and stroke, according to new federal estimates published on Wednesday.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also said preliminary figures for 2005 showed an increase in the U.S. infant mortality rate from the previous year, although it called the rise statistically insignificant. Black babies under age 1 remained far more likely to die than white babies.
The CDC's National Center for Health Statistics said in a report that a child born in the United States in 2005 can expect to live 77.9 years, up from 77.8 in 2004 and continuing a rise dating back decades. U.S. life expectancy was 75.8 years in 1995 and 69.6 years in 1955.
The United States, a country of 300 million people, ranks 42nd in the world in life expectancy, according to previously released data.
U.S. whites will live longer than blacks, and women longer than men, the CDC said, reflecting enduring disparities.
The 2005 report estimated that white women will live 80.8 years, compared to 76.5 years for black women. However, black women will outlive white men (75.7 years) and black men (69.6 years), the CDC said. The CDC said the figures for both black men and women were the highest ever recorded.
"If death rates from certain leading causes of death continue to decline, we should continue to see improvements in life expectancy," CDC statistician Hsiang-Ching Kung, who worked on the report, said in a statement.
The death rates from heart disease, cancer and stroke, the three leading causes of death in the United States, fell in 2005 compared to 2004. The report showed rises in 2005 in death rates from Alzheimer's disease, the seventh-leading killer, and Parkinson's disease, the 14th-leading cause of death.
The U.S. infant mortality rate is higher than many other rich nations. The CDC said 2005 figures showed an infant mortality rate of 6.89 per 1,000 live births up to age 1, a rise from 6.79 in 2004. Infant mortality for black babies in 2005 was 13.69 per 1,000 live births, compared to 5.76 for white babies, the CDC said.
The agency said birth defects were the leading cause of infant mortality in 2005, followed by problems related to premature birth and low birth weight.