COVID-19 contributed to largest single-year decline of life expectancy in Canada: StatCan

TORONTO — The COVID-19 pandemic led to the largest single-year decline of life expectancy in Canada ever recorded, Statistics Canada said on Monday.

In 2020, life expectancy was 81.7 years, down 0.6 years from 82.3 years in 2019. It’s the steepest decrease of life expectancy since national vital statistics started to be logged in 1921.

The largest declines in life expectancy were seen in Quebec, followed by Ontario, the Prairies and British Columbia. The drop in life expectancy for men was also steeper than for women — 0.7 years for males compared to 0.4 years for females.

A total of 16,151 Canadians died in 2020 due to COVID-19, making it the third leading cause of death that year. COVID-19 accounted for 5.3 per cent of all deaths in Canada, behind cancer and heart disease, which accounted for 26.4 per cent and 17.5 per cent of deaths, respectively.

COVID-19 wasn’t the only factor that led to an increase in deaths. As pandemic-related stressors related to lockdowns, deaths and the fear of getting sick worsened the mental health of many Canadians, some turned to drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism.

The mortality rate for those aged 25 to 39 was also the highest seen in 20 years, despite the fact that very few Canadians under 40 died due to COVID-19. StatCan says the increased mortality for younger age groups can be attributed to “notable increases” in deaths relating to substance use.

“The increase from 2019 to 2020 in the rate of deaths attributed to accidental poisonings was particularly acute for younger Canadians,” StatCan said. The year 2020 saw 4,604 deaths due to accidental poisonings, including overdoses, compared to 3705 deaths reported in 2019.

For those under 45, alcohol-induced deaths hovered at around 360 from 2017 to 2019. But in in 2020, 542 Canadians in this age group died due to alcohol. For those aged 45 to 64, there were 1,946 alcohol-induced deaths in 2020 and 1,656 or fewer in the three years prior.

Mortality rates in lower-income neighbourhoods were also found to be much higher than elsewhere in the country, as the four leading causes of death were more common. People who lived in these neighbourhoods were 1.7 times as likely to die from COVID-19. The mortality rate for accidental injuries — the fourth leading cause of death — was also 1.9 times higher in these communities.

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