Improvements in medical treatments of major diseases have brought life expectancy in the United states to a new high, with the average now at 78.8 years, a federal report says.

As is usually the case, women will generally live longer than men, with their life expectancy reaching 81.2 years as compared with 76.4 for men, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in its report.

"Although changes in mortality are relatively small from one year to the next, long-term trends show the apparent progress in reducing mortality," the CDC report said.

The life expectancy figure is for a child born in 2012, and is a little more than a month longer than that for a child born in 2011.

A reduction in deaths from major diseases such as cancer, stroke and heart disease is being seen as a major factor in the increase, the study authors at the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, Division of Vital Statistics, said.

"Americans are living longer and are more aware of preventing chronic diseases," Dr. Jiaquan Xu, a CDC epidemiologist, says. "Life expectancy has increased because people are eating healthier and exercising."

Overall, death rate in the U.S. declined by slightly more than 1 percent between 2011 and 2012, the report said.

The largest decline in the death rate was recorded in black women, down 2.3 percent from 2011 to 2012, while Hispanics were the only racial group not showing a drop in death rates, the report authors said.

Death rates for eight of the 10 leading causes of deaths -- heart disease, stroke, cancer, chronic respiratory disease, Alzheimer's, diabetes, pneumonia and influenza, and kidney disease -- declined significantly, Xu said.

The one major cause of death showing a significant increase was suicide, up 2.4 percent, a finding the researchers say they find puzzling.

Preventing illness through lowering blood pressure and cholesterol and giving up smoking have gone a long way in preventing heart disease and stroke, while screening programs have reduced deaths from breast, colon and other cancers, says Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, a preventive cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

"The most common causes of death are due to how you choose to live," Steinbaum says. "If we can get how we eat and how we exercise under control, we can prevent many major causes of death."

"We can stop being a treatment-oriented country, and become a prevention-oriented country and extend life tremendously," Steinbaum said.

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