NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – According to new data from the National Center For Health Statistics, life expectancy dropped in all 50 states and The District of Columbia in 2020. Tennessee saw a decrease of 1.8 years in life expectancy across all groups.

Dr. Todd Rice, the Director of the Medical Intensive Care Unit at Vanderbilt, says the pandemic is largely to blame.

“I think COVID caused people to die earlier than they would have otherwise died, and that lower life expectancy,” Dr. Rice said. “But I think we’re seeing some longer-term effects where people are dying from non-COVID illnesses because they just didn’t get the regular medical care that they would have otherwise gotten to sort of optimize the treatment of those disease processes.”

Tennessee’s life expectancy in 2020 was 73.8 years, a drop of 1.8 years since 2019. According to Dr. Rice, a lack of preventative care was also an issue in addition to deaths from COVID-19.

“They wouldn’t get their annual screenings. If they had diabetes or high blood pressure, they wouldn’t go get their routine visits, their meds adjusted, you know, or optimal care because of COVID,” Dr. Rice said.

A decrease in cancer screenings during the pandemic may also be a factor. 

“There are lots of data emerging now that people didn’t do their cancer screening have said that cancers are detected later and in a more spread form, or dispersed stage now than they were before because people didn’t get their screenings. And that’s true for cancer and diabetes, and heart disease and all of that,” said Dr. Rice.

It will also likely take years for life expectancy levels to return to their pre-pandemic levels.

“I think it’s going to take us a little bit to get back to people getting their screenings and people getting back on target for their visits for their diabetes and their high blood pressure. And I think because we missed some of those visits, and you know, didn’t optimize treatment during those time periods. I think we’re gonna see some effects of this for five, maybe even 10 years down the road, you know, which is the disease course for many of these diseases,” Dr. Rice said.