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America's Health a Mixed Bag: Report

By Amanda Gardner
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Feb. 16 (HealthDay News) -- U.S. officials on Wednesday released the annual state-of-the-nation's health report and the news is mixed, with life expectancy rates on the rise but obesity levels still climbing.

On the positive side, life expectancy was up slightly in 2007, to 77.9 years from 76.8 years at the beginning of the decade.

And while women are still ahead of the game, gender and race gaps in longevity have narrowed, according to the report, compiled by the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"It's encouraging that life expectancy continues to increase, although at a very small pace, but as we're living longer we're living longer with disease," said Dr. Patrick Remington, associate dean for public health at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health in Madison. "Years added to your life expectancy are years with disease."

Perhaps even more troubling, said experts, are climbing obesity rates, with two-thirds of adults now overweight or obese, up from 29.9 percent a decade ago. While obesity rates among 2- to 5-year-olds seem to be leveling off, rates among older children and teens are still increasing, the report showed.

"The overall trend for childhood obesity is upward, which is not a good sign for future obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer," said Cheryl L. Perry, dean of the University of Texas School of Public Health Austin Regional Campus, part of the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. "There may be some hope for the younger children, but it's probably too soon to declare victory, since the 6- to 11-year-old rates also declined, but then increased substantially in the next wave."

Other risk factors for chronic illnesses, including heart disease, aren't looking too good, either.

"Obesity, diabetes and hypertension are really critical in terms of looking at the future health status of the U.S., and that news has not been good for a long time and it doesn't look like it's improving," said Dr. Nancy Bennett, director of the University of Rochester Medical Center's Center for Community Health.

Heart disease and cancer remain the two leading killers, collectively accounting for nearly half of the 2.5 million deaths in the United States in 2007, 25 percent and 23 percent, respectively.

Among the report's findings:

  • Hypertension levels are on the rise, with 32.6 percent of the population suffering from high blood pressure in 2007-2008, as compared with 28.9 percent in 1999-2000.
  • Twelve percent of U.S. adults are now diabetic, up from 8.5 percent in 1999.
  • On the other hand, cholesterol levels are coming under control, probably because a quarter of U.S. adults aged 45 and over are now using the cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins, a dramatic increase from just 2 percent in the 1988-1994 period. "The increase in statin use is pretty dramatic," said Bernstein.
  • Skyrocketing medical costs continue to be a problem, with more Americans than ever before delaying or simply foregoing medical care: 11 percent in 1997 to 15 percent in 2009. People skimping on prescription drugs went from 6 percent to 11 percent, and those missing out on needed dental care increased from 11 percent to 17 percent.
  • More kids are moving to Medicaid (35 percent in 2009 versus 18 percent in 1999), and fewer are staying on private insurance. The good news is that fewer kids are uninsured: only 8 percent as compared with 12 percent a decade earlier.
  • More children have skin allergies (10.7 percent, compared with 7.4 percent in the late 1990s), attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (9 percent versus 6.5 percent) and food allergies (4.6 percent, up from 3.4 percent).
  • Americans do seem to be moving more, with 18.8 percent reporting exercising, a marginal uptick from 18.1 percent in 2008 and a bigger increase from 15.1 percent in 2000, but experts said it's still not enough. "It's pretty discouraging," Bennett noted.
  • According to a new special section in the report, one-quarter of deaths in both the under-65 and over-65 age groups took place at home in 2007, up from one-sixth in 1989. Still, most deaths occurred out of the home, 36 percent in hospitals (down from 49 percent), and 22 percent in nursing homes and other facilities.
  • Infant mortality has declined 2 percent from 2000.
  • Half of middle-aged and older Americans are now having regular colonoscopies, up from one-third in 2000.
  • The smoking rate among adults has largely stabilized, at about 21 percent, while smoking among teens has essentially stalled since 2004, at about 20 percent.

More information

Visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for more on the report.

SOURCES: Amy Bernstein, Sc.D., chief, analytic studies branch, National Center for Health Statistics, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Nancy Bennett, M.D., director, Center for Community Health, University of Rochester Medical Center, Rochester, N.Y.; Cheryl L. Perry, Ph.D., professor and dean, University of Texas School of Public Health Austin Regional Campus; Patrick Remington, M.D., associate dean, public health, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, Madison; Feb. 16, 2011, CDC's Health, United States, 2010

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