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U.S. life expectancy hits record high as most death rates fall

Americans are living longer than ever before, according to a new government report filled mostly with good news. U.S. life expectancy inched up again as death rates fell.

Rates also fell or held steady for nearly all the leading causes of death. The one exception: The suicide rate reached its highest point in 25 years. That figure has been increasing since 2000 and "it's really hard to say why," said Robert Anderson, who oversees the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention branch that issued the report today.

The yearly report looked at deaths in 2012. It found:

• U.S. life expectancy for a child born in 2012 was 78 years and 9 ½ months, up about six weeks from the life expectancy in 2010 and 2011. That's a record.

• For 65-year-olds, the CDC estimates that men have about 18 years of life left and women about 20½ years. The gaps between men and women grew slightly, compared with 2011.

• There were 2.5 million deaths in 2012, or about 28,000 more than the year before. The increase was expected, reflecting the nation's growing and aging population, Anderson said.

• The infant mortality rate dropped again slightly, to a new low of 5.98 per 1,000 births. That's a historic low, but the U.S. infant mortality rate is still higher than in most European countries.

• Death rates for blacks and whites dropped, but held steady for Hispanics. However, Hispanic death rates remain lower than the numbers for blacks and whites.

• The 10 leading causes of death remained the same, with heart disease and cancer topping the list. Suicide is the 10th.

The suicide rate rose more than 2 percent, to 12.6 per suicide deaths per 100,000 Americans. That's the highest it's been since 1987, when the rate was 12.8.