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Americans Are Living Longer But With More Health Problems

On Wednesday, JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association, published its first major look at the health of the U.S. population in roughly 15 years. The massive undertaking looked at data from 187 countries, including life expectancy information, obesity rates, and disease. The good news is that the average American’s life expectancy has increased since 1990. The bad news is that obesity is rising, and along with this, many Americans are living with debilitating health problems from an earlier age.

The study found that U.S. life expectancy when combining both sexes has increased from 75.2 years in 1990 to 78.2 years in 2010. Increasing life expectancy is generally a good thing, but the United States is lagging when compared to other countries and the increase in their life expectancies. The study notes that while health procedures and possibilities have grown exponentially and while the U.S. spends more per capita on healthcare than any other country, the average life expectancy for Americans has only improved slightly. To make matters worse, the study looked at data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development and found that while the U.S. has improved since 1990, the country still declined in the life expectancy rankings when compared to the numbers of the other wealthy countries looked at during the study.

Furthermore, the same sort of decline in the rankings occurs in the U.S. when looking at the health of overall individuals. Progress has been made in reducing death rates from some diseases, but diseases related to obesity, Alzheimer’s, and cardiovascular issues are all on the rise. On top of this, the number of years of living with a chronic problem is increasing, and while some of this has to do with members of the population living longer and getting more health care, stress, diet and obesity all weigh in to the fact that members of the U.S. are dealing with problems for a larger percent of their lives.

Accompanying the lengthy study is an editorial by Harvey Feinberg, a PhD and the President of the Institute of Medicine in Washington, D.C., which goes a long way to encapsulate the sort of problems the United States is facing.

“Despite a level of health expenditures that would have seemed unthinkable a generation ago, the health of the US population has improved only gradually and has fallen behind the pace of progress in many other wealthy nations. In fact, by every measure including death rates, life expectancy, and diminished function and quality of life as assessed by the authors, the US standing compared with 34 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries declined between 1990 and 2010.”

The study concludes that more exercise, smaller portions, and developing better ways to handle stress could help the U.S. to regain its status among the rankings and improve the country’s overall health. Needless to say, reintroducing the Twinkie back into the American conscious is probably not the best way to achieve those goals.

The Wall Street Journal has put together a great graph that looks at life expectancy and obesity rates by state, and if you get the chance, head over to the site to see how your neck of the woods, or in this case layer of the chin, measures up.

Image Credit: Shutterstock/ sunabesyou

Jessica Rawden

Amazing Race & Top Chef superfan with a pinch of Disney fairy dust thrown in. If you’ve created a rom-com I’ve probably watched it.