Posted on December 8, 2021

Native Americans Die Younger, CDC Study Shows

Nada Hassanein, USA Today, November 29, 2021


A recent study confirmed Native Americans have lower life expectancies compared to other racial groups. For years, American Indian and Alaska Native people have been misclassified in death records, leading to significant underestimation of death rates and life expectancy.

But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study released this month using 2019 data reports it is the first comprehensive, national mortality assessment of the population.

The study confirmed previous analyses and expanded on them, finding lower life expectancies for American Indian and Alaska Native people compared to white, Black and Hispanic people. The findings paint a grim picture that’s no surprise to Native Americans, who have seen too many lives cut short throughout their communities.

A product of historical traumas, including genocide, colonization and forced removal and assimilation by the U.S. government, the disparities are a reality that echo throughout Indian Country.

Overall, Native people had a life expectancy of 71 years, compared to Hispanic life expectancy of almost 82 years, whites at 78.8 years, and Blacks at 74.8 years, the study found.

Heart disease was the leading cause of death for Native people that year, followed by cancer, accidents, chronic liver disease, and cirrhosis and chronic respiratory diseases. Natives were also killed at five times the rate of white people, half the rate of Black people and more than twice the rate of Hispanic people.

Overall, Native men and boys had the lowest life expectancy at around 68 years, according to the study. That’s a decade less than Hispanics, 7.7 years less than whites, and 2.7 years less than Blacks.

Native women and girls lived longer than males, around 74 years – but still significantly less than others: Their life expectancy was 9.4 years less than Hispanics, 6.3 years less than whites, and around 3 years less than Blacks.

Native babies were also more likely to die. Infant death among Natives under one year was highest compared to the other races, according to the analysis.


Many states don’t consistently track tribal data on death certificates, making individual tribes’ life expectancy hard to estimate.


Health advocate Margaret Moss, a nursing professor at the University of British Columbia, dedicated her career to studying Native health disparities. She also saw the ill effects of assimilation and disinvestment: Born before the Indian Child Welfare Act that aimed to keep American Indian foster children with their own people, Moss was adopted into a white household and moved to the Washington, D.C., area.

She grew up with two other Native children. Her sister by adoption died at 50, and her brother at 45. A brother from her original family died at 35 of an accident, a top cause of death for American Indians.

“If the numbers are glossed over, that relieves the system,” said Moss, a member of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation, the Three Affiliated Tribes of North Dakota and author of the textbook American Indian Health and Nursing.

A 2017 tribal report found men of her tribe had a life expectancy of around 51 years old, and women, 58.