New research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that Black and African Americans experienced over 1.6 million excess deaths over the previous two decades — a trend that researchers believe means more work needs to be done.

The study published in JAMA looked at millions of records from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spanning from 1999 to 2020, comparing the race of Black and white populations across age groups.

Researchers affiliated with several schools including Johns Hopkins University as well as the National Institutes of Health and a private research group in Randallstown, Maryland, found that Black men and women accounted for 80 million years of potential life lost across 22 years.

Study co-author and cardiologist Dr. Clyde Yancy said the disparities have been clear for decades, but we haven’t yet seen the data presented in aggregate.

“Now that we’ve been able to quantify, we realize the scale of these health inequities, which is not just substantial but sobering,” Yancy said in an interview at Northwestern University, where he is the vice dean for diversity and inclusion and chief of cardiology.

He said this is most evident when the metric shifts from the number of lives lost over the 22-year period — 997,623 Black males and 628,464 females — to the total number of years collectively lost.

“It’s 80 million; that’s 80 million years of work productivity, 80 million years of family support, 80 million years of community engagement, 80 million years of personal joy and satisfaction, all of which is truncated prematurely and for non-biological reasons as the most evident example of an unacceptable health inequity,” said Yancy.

Lead researcher Dr. César Caraballo highlighted that a change is necessary while persistent excess mortality rates existed among non-Hispanic Black adults.

“The abrupt worsening of these disparities in the first year of the pandemic indicates that current efforts to eliminate mortality disparities have been minimally effective and that progress has been fragile,” Dr. Caraballo said. “We need targeted strategies aimed at early childhood health and preventing heart disease and cancer, some of the main drivers of these disparities, to build a more equitable future.”

Terris King, researcher and founder of Baltimore County-based Lukan Group, saw similar issues with equity and access, especially in the wake of the pandemic.

“COVID-19 has changed the way healthcare is delivered,” King wrote.

Yancy said that he and his co-authors found a need for a public health initiative to tackle health inequity. Its goal: going beyond work with policy and health care professionals.

“As we go forward, and with the aging of our population, the health of our citizenry directly impacts the health of our economy — the pandemic made that incontrovertibly clear,” he said. “We are reminded once again that the absence of health in any one of us affects the health of all of us.”

As part of Maryland Matters’ content sharing agreement with WTOP, we feature this article from Ivy Lyons. Click here for the WTOP News website. Josh Kurtz contributed to this report.

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