We regularly scan eleven journals for new studies of particular population health relevance (the list of journals is at the end of this post). Two articles in June caught our eye:
The gap in life expectancy between non-Hispanic white and non-Hispanic blacks has continued to be one of the greatest lingering disparities of public health in the modern era. However, this brief report in JAMA asserts that this gap may be beginning to close. The authors have found that between 2003 and 2008 the life expectancy gap has been reduced from 6.5 to 5.4 years for men and 4.6 to 3.7 years for women. This reduction is significant, as a reduction of this magnitude has not been observed since the early 1990s, with the authors concluding “these racial inequalities among men and women in 2008 are the lowest ever recorded in the United States.” Authors attribute the narrowing gap among both men and women to declines in heart disease and HIV mortality rates, as well as a recent increase in poisoning mortality that has affected middle-aged white men more than any other group. This example illustrates that disparity rates are ratios that can be improved by worsening health among advantaged groups as well as improved health among disadvantaged groups. Overall, these results are remarkably hopeful and need to be followed in future years for clues about how such trends can be sustained.