Feeling great at 78

ATLANTA – The life expectancy for Americans is nearly 78 years, the longest in U.S. history, according to new government figures from 2005 released Thursday.

That age, based on the latest data available, was still lower than the life span in more than three dozen other countries, however.

More bad news: The annual number of U.S. deaths rose from 2004 to 2005, a depressing uptick after the figure had dropped by 50,000 from 2003 to 2004. In 2005, the number of deaths increased by about that same amount.

U.S. life expectancy at birth inched up to 77.9 from the previous record, 77.8, recorded for 2004. The increase was more dramatic in contrast with 1995, when life expectancy was 75.8, and 1955, when it was 69.6.

The improvement was led by a drop in deaths from heart disease and stroke – two of the nation’s leading killers, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, which released the new life expectancy report Wednesday.

“If death rates from certain leading causes of death continue to decline, we should continue to see improvements in life expectancy,” said Hsiang-Ching Kung, in a prepared statement. Kung is a survey statistician who co-authored the report.

The report also described a slight increase in the infant mortality rate, from 6.8 per 1,000 live births in 2004 to 6.9 in 2005. But researchers said the increase was not statistically significant.

The report is based on about 99 percent of the death records reported in all 50 states and the District of Columbia for 2005.

A final report will be released later, and the numbers may change a little. Last year, when releasing its preliminary death data for 2004, the government reported a 77.9 life expectancy. That figure later dropped to 77.8 in the final report.

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