Dear USET/USET SPF Family,
In late August, the CDC issued a statement regarding the release of the Provisional Life Expectancy Estimates report for 2021. The USET TEC has taken the time to review this report and would like to highlight some of the relevant findings, as they provide new insight into mortality trends in Indian Country. The report outlines early mortality statistics in the United States retrieved from data collected by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). Provisional life expectancy estimates are generated by using death records and transforming this information into life tables. Life tables help predict survivorship amongst groups and populations and may also emphasize the presence of health disparities. Primarily focusing on life expectancy estimates from 2019 to 2021, the report features valuable information about the national effect that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on various populations, including American Indian/ Alaska Native (AI/AN) people.
According to the provisional report, in 2021 non-Hispanic American Indian/ Alaskan Native people (AI/AN) experienced the most significant decline in life expectancy at 1.9 years, compared to other racial groups. It was also reported that 65.2 years of age was identified as the life expectancy at birth for AI/AN people. This estimate is equivalent to the life expectancy in the US in 1942. Since 2019 the life expectancy for those of AI/AN descent has declined by a total of 6.6 years. The impact that public health concerns, like COVID-19, have had on Indian Country is heavily apparent when referencing these mortality statistics. Findings from the report serve as a reminder of the importance of conducting robust public health surveillance and interventions to best address health outcomes adversely affecting Tribal communities.
Unfortunately, Indian Country has historically been faced with additional constraints that have made following these public health practices difficult. Data quality concerns, such as racial misclassification on death certificates, as well as lack of access to health data pertaining to Tribal Nations, continue to pose a threat and inhibit the ability to obtain accurate and complete data regarding AI/AN people. The USET TEC, as well as other TECs and Tribal organizations, have prioritized addressing these concerns through increasing awareness and streamlining activities around data improvement. The USET TEC’s longstanding Mortality Project has been instrumental in improving AI/AN decedent data within the South and Eastern regions of the United States, where racial misclassification is more dominant than when compared to other regions. The project has primarily been focused on obtaining mortality data from states where USET member Tribal Nations reside and using it to build a database for deaths and generate aggregate and Tribal Nation-specific mortality reports.
Through continued outreach and collaboration with states’ vital statistics sectors and securing access to a system called Electronic Verification of Vital Events Fact of Death (EVVE FOD) the USET TEC has managed to simplify the data collection process needed to compile information on the leading causes of death in Tribal communities. Furthermore, coupling this effort with educational training offered to funeral directors and mortuary science programs in the USET area focused on filling out death certificates and the implications of racial misclassification are thought to have also been helpful in achieving more accurate information regarding Tribal Nations.
The USET TEC aims to provide Tribal Nations with accurate and timely information regarding public health topics and developments that directly influence Indian Country. Please contact the USET TEC at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have questions regarding this alert or the USET Mortality Project.
More information regarding the CDC brief and 2021 Report for Provisional Life Expectancy Estimates can be found at the links below: