Americans Living Longer But Are Less Healthy

August 23, 2013
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Wrong, wrong, wrong.
So just on the heels of reporting that if you make it to 90 you have a reasonable shot at living with a quality of life to 95 comes this.

Americans are living longer than they did two decades ago, but they are losing ground on key measures of health to people in other developed nations.

Researchers, led by Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington in Seattle, in a study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association, show progress in reducing death rates, adjusted for age, across a variety of diseases. But death rates from illnesses associated with obesity, such as diabetes and kidney disease, as well as neurological conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, are on the rise. And to top it, the number of years of living with chronic disability rose for the average American in the past 20 years, partly reflecting increased longevity.

The findings are considered the most comprehensive analysis of the health of the U.S. population in more than 15 years.

“Despite a level of health expenditures that would have seemed unthinkable a generation ago, the health of the U.S. population has improved only gradually and has fallen behind the pace of progress in many other wealthy nations,” said Harvey V. Fineberg, president of the Institute of Medicine, in an editorial accompanying the report.

We are getting sicker sooner, at age 68.1, and living with illness longer. The U.S. ranking for a healthy life span fell to 26th from 14th two decades ago.

The lead causes of premature death in the U.S. remained heart disease, lung cancer and strokes. Leading contributors to disability were lower-back pain and other disorders of muscles, nerves and joints, as well as depression and anxiety. Poor dietary habits have overtaken smoking as the most important risk factor associated with years of life lost to disability and to premature death.

The common thread to all of these recent studies is that most of this is under our control. And as I reported in a previous blog, exercise is not enough. It is the combination of diet and exercise that does the trick. That is why it is disturbing to see that poor dietary habits have overtaken smoking as the most important risk factor.