"The Journal of the American Medical Association reported this month that the gap between black and white male life expectancy fell from 6.5 years in 2003 to 5.4 years in 2008. For women, the gap fell from 4.6 years to 3.7 years. While the gap has been dropping slowly for two decades, this most recent narrowing drew attention because of its rapid pace.
African Americans are becoming less likely to die because of heart disease or HIV. A national focus on health disparities might have also helped. In Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University established a Center to Eliminate Cardiovascular Health Disparities, making information about disease prevention more widely available in communities. Even so, new data could mask a more persistent set of disparities. In Baltimore, for example, there is a 20-year life expectancy gap between the wealthiest individuals, who live 83 years on average, and the poorest, who live 63 years.
Buried in the good news is also a caution. One reason the gap has narrowed is because while some blacks are doing a better job of taking care of their health, some whites are doing a worse job. In particular, deaths from unintentional poisonings, mostly from drug use, rose faster among whites than blacks. Recreational drug use might play a role here, but painkiller and opiate abuse also increased."