Homicide is #1 contributor to years of lost life among African Americans, study finds

BLOOMINGTON, Indiana — For African Americans, homicide is the leading factor for potential years of life lost, a new study finds.

Researchers at the Indiana University School of Public Health-Bloomington examined all deaths of black and white Americans in 2015, allowing them to calculate the number of early and premature deaths.

Police lights at crime scene
A new study finds that homicide is the leading contributor to potential years of life lost for African Americans, while it’s just the 12th highest factor for whites.

While murder was the leading cause of early death for blacks, it was only the 12th leading cause for whites, reflecting a deep racial disparity.

Heart disease, the foremost contributor to early death for whites, also received far more academic attention than homicide as it pertained to years of life lost, with 341 grants and coverage in nearly 600 publications.

In addition to the emotional and psychological tolls that early death can impose, it can result in long-lasting economic consequences, the researchers argue.

“If we look at the estimated value of remaining lifetime productivity for a 31-year-old American, which is the average age of death for black Americans killed by homicide, it’s more than $1.5 million,” says Molly Rosenberg, lead author of the study, in a university news release. “The more premature a death, the greater the loss in economic productivity for the family, community and society. This loss of human potential can push families into poverty and societies toward heightened inequality.”

Even within particular causes of early death, there were significant disparities between blacks and whites.

For those with congenital abnormalities, for example, the average of death was 15 for blacks, compared to 26 for whites; for death by suicide, blacks committed the act 10 years earlier than whites, on average.

Overall, there were 21.4 million potential years of life lost in 2015, attributable to 2.7 million deaths.

African Americans accounted for 20 percent of these years lost, despite only making up 13 percent of the U.S.’s population.

“Homicide research is dramatically underrepresented in public health research in terms of grant funding and publications,” Rosenberg concludes. “This lack of investment threatens to perpetuate a system that disadvantages the health of black Americans.”

The full study was published yesterday in the journal PLOS ONE.