WEDNESDAY, Jan. 11 (HealthDay News) -- Americans are living longer, a new report shows, with the average life expectancy going from 78.6 years in 2009 to 78.7 years in 2010.
Meanwhile, U.S. death rates dropped half a percent between 2009 and 2010, and hit the lowest rate ever, at 746.2 deaths per 100,000 people, according to the latest set of data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics.
And while both heart disease and cancer stubbornly remain in place as the nation's leading killers (together accounting for 47 percent of deaths in 2010), death rates here declined as well. Mortality from heart disease went down 2.4 percent, while it dropped 0.6 percent for cancer.
The report is based on 98 percent of death certificates from 50 states and the District of Columbia available to the NCHS.
"In many regards, I think the health of the nation is improving and people are living to an older age so that's good news," said Dr. David McClellan, acting regional chair of family and community medicine at Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine. "But we are starting to see age-related diseases have more prominence."
For instance, pneumonitis (aspiration pneumonia) often happens when people get old enough and debilitated enough to where they can't swallow. This could be due to dementia or as the aftermath of a stroke, he explained.
There's also "a long way to go in terms of combating the epidemic of smoking, obesity, poor diet and exercise," he said. "If we could get the smoking epidemic under control, we'd probably see the numbers improve even more."
Another expert was more optimistic.
"This is good news. We're making major progression in cancer and heart disease through decreases in smoking," said Dr. Jay Brooks, chairman of hematology/oncology at Ochsner Health System in Baton Rouge, L
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