Statistics Canada says the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to an average seven-month decline in national life expectancy, the largest decrease recorded since 1921 when the vital statistics registration system was introduced.
The federal agency released preliminary data Monday showing national life expectancy, which is estimated on an annual basis, was 81.7 years for those born in 2020 — down from 82.3 the year before.
The drop was greater for men, at more than eight months, than for women, at nearly five months, and the largest declines in the country were observed in Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia.
There were 307,205 deaths in Canada in 2020, representing a 7.7 per cent increase from 2019. Of those, 16,151 deaths were attributed to COVID-19 during the first year of the pandemic, representing 5.3 per cent of the country’s 2020 deaths.
That made COVID-19 the third leading cause of death in Canada in 2020, though Statistics Canada added that the pandemic may have also contributed indirectly to a number of other deaths across the country.
Cancer was the leading cause of death at 26.4 per cent while heart disease was second at 17.5 per cent.
Statistics Canada found that mortality rates for cancer, heart disease and COVID-19 were higher in lower-income neighbourhoods.
Unintentional injuries were the fourth leading cause of death at five per cent, with stroke, chronic lower respiratory diseases, diabetes mellitus, influenza and pneumonia, Alzheimer’s disease and chronic liver disease and cirrhosis rounding out the top 10.
Though Canada’s life expectancy fell in 2020, it was still among the highest in the world over that year, Statistics Canada said.
Some countries, including Spain, Italy and the United States saw greater impact on life expectancy from the pandemic, with declines up to 1.5 years. Others, including Norway, Denmark and Finland, saw life expectancy remain stable or even increase in 2020, despite the pandemic.
Statistics Canada said life expectancy for those born in 2020 is expected to return to pre-pandemic levels as the impacts of the health crisis diminish.