From Our 2010 Archives

Life Expectancy Up, but So Is Poor Health

CDC Report on State of Nation's Health Also Shows Use of Imaging Tests Are Increasing

By Daniel J. DeNoon
WebMD Health News

Reviewed By Louise Chang, MD

Feb. 17, 2010 -- Life expectancy is up, but so is poor health, even though personal health care cost each American $6,219.

That's just a small taste of the 574 pages of data today served up in the CDC's 33rd annual "State of the Nation" report on U.S. health.

What's new?

That depends on a number of factors, such as how old you are, where in the U.S. you live, and, not least, your family income.

The CDC data, compiled and analyzed over the course of the last year, offer snapshots of U.S. health in the years it was collected -- mostly 2006 and 2007.

What does it all mean? The CDC doesn't interpret the data. That's up to our doctors, our pundits, and ultimately to us.

Here are some of the more interesting facts gleaned from the CDC report:

  • If you are a newborn baby, you can expect to live to age 75 if you're a boy and to age 80 if you're a girl.
  • If you already have reached age 65, you can expect to live another 18.5 years.
  • African-Americans have a shorter life expectancy than white Americans, but the gap has narrowed by two years, from eight to six years less for African-American men and from six to four years less for African-American women.
  • Among Americans of all ages, 10% are in poor or fair health. At age 65 or older, 27% of Americans are in poor or fair health.
  • Among all U.S. adults, only 31% get regular exercise. That may explain why 34% of us are obese.
  • One in 10 kids under age 18 has not seen a doctor in the last year. That number may be relatively low because more kids than ever before are covered by the federal Children's Health Insurance Program. On the other hand, a decline in private health insurance coverage may help explain why nearly one in four adults 18-24 hasn't seen a doctor in at least a year.
  • If you live in Massachusetts, you have more doctors providing patient care per 10,000 residents (39.1) than the national average (25.3). If you live in Idaho, with 17 doctors per 10,000 residents, you may have to wait longer or travel farther for care.
  • Every American, on average, spent $6,219 on health care in 2007, the most recent year for which figures are available. That added up to $1.9 trillion in doctor, hospital, and pharmacy bills.
  • Middle-aged Americans who are poor are as likely to have high blood pressure as Americans aged 65-74. Poor Americans aged 45-64 are twice as likely to suffer heart disease or diabetes as same-age Americans whose incomes are double the poverty level.
  • What health problems limit kids' ability to remain active? It depends on age. For preschool children, it's a speech problem, mental retardation, or asthma. For all school-age kids, it's learning disabilities or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). For older kids, aged 12-17, it's a mental, emotional, or behavioral problem other than ADHD or a developmental problem.
  • What happens to us as we age? As we age, we face increasing odds of having arthritis or other muscle or bone issues limit our ability to stay active. This affects 26% of 65- to 74-year-olds, 36% of those aged 75-84, and 62% of those aged 85 and older. The second leading cause of activity limitation is a heart or circulatory condition.

Technology Changes U.S. Health

Medical technology has made a big change in U.S. health care. Advanced imaging tests such as PET scans and MRI now are ordered at 3% to 4% of doctor-office and outpatient-clinic visits. Use of advanced imaging tripled from 1996 to 2007.

Improved medical devices such as hip and knee replacements make those procedures more routine. By 2007, adults aged 45 and over were getting knee replacements 70% more often than in 1996.

Transplant technology also has improved. From 1997 to 2006, new kidney transplants increased 31% and new liver transplants increased 42%.

New drugs have also changed U.S. health care. From 2003 to 2006, use of cholesterol-lowering statin drugs increased tenfold over the period from 1988 to 1994; use of diabetes drugs increased 50%.

Some things have been slower to change. The top six causes of death remain the same as in 2000: heart disease, cancer, stroke, chronic lung diseases, unintentional injuries, and diabetes. In the longer term, however, things are changing. Since 1950, deaths from heart disease, stroke, and unintentional injuries have declined dramatically, while diabetes and cancer deaths have not. Deaths from chronic lung disease have increased since 1980.

SOURCES: National Center for Health Statistics: "Health, United States, 2009, In Brief," "Health, United States, 2009: With Special Feature on Medical Technology."

News release, CDC.

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