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US life expectancy climbs to a new high

Deaths from heart disease, cancer, and stroke, three leading killers in the U.S., all dropped in 2003. They were down 2 percent to 5 percent.//

Also, Americans' life expectancy increased again in 2003, up from 77.3 the year before. By comparison, it was 75.4 in 1990.

Life expectancy in the U.S. has increased almost without interruption since 1900, because of several factors, including advances in medicine and sanitation, and declines in unhealthy habits, such as smoking.

Those trends may increase life expectancy despite the rises in obesity and blood pressure.

Half of all Americans closing in on their Medicare years have high blood pressure, while two out of five are obese, the U.S. government’s annual summary of the nation's well-being says.

Still, the health of the nation as a whole continues to improve as life expectancy hit an all-time high and deaths from heart disease, stroke and cancer continue to decline.

These findings were published in Health, United States, 2005, which was released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The report, based on data collected by the National Center for Health Statistics, features an in-depth look at the 55-to-64 demographics, the oldest of the Baby Boomers and the fastest-growing segment of the population.

With their population expected to swell from 29 million in 2004 to 40 million in 2014, their health may well be an indication for the rest of the nation, providing important clues for future health programs and policies for the elderly.

Risk factors like obesity and hypertension are going in the wrong direction and things are being squeezed. As many as 40 percent of 55- to 64-year-olds were obese, up from 31 percent in the 2003 report.

People within the 55-to-64 range also had more frequent and more severe health problems, including diabetes and heart disease, than younger people.

The report also found that very high use of prescription drugs, with the rate of cholesterol-lowering drugs roughly tripling among men and women from 1995-96 to 2002-03.

Overall, however, the pre-Medicare Baby Boomers were more likely to have health insurance than other adult age groups.

And deaths from heart disease, stroke and cancer declined between 2 percent and 5 percent.

But along with that longevity comes a greater prevalence of chronic diseases.

And while gains in health care and well being continue to be made, they're happening more slowly than in the past. Among the report's findings:

·The U.S. spent $1.7 trillion, or $5,671 for every man, woman and child, on health care in 2003.

·The prevalence of overweight and obesity among adults 20 to 74 years of age increased from 47 percent in 1976-80 to 65 percent in 1999-2002.

·The average annual rate of increase for prescription drug expenditures was higher than for any other category of health expenditure, a trend that began in 1995.

·More than 9 percent of people aged 20 and older and about one-fifth of adults 60 and older had diabetes in the period 1999 to 2002.

·There were major disparities in health and health care between socioeconomic, racial, ethnic and insurance-status groups. Overall mortality was 30 percent higher for black Americans than for white Americans.

·More than one-quarter of all adults experienced lower back pain within the past three months, while 15 percent had severe headaches or migraines. Fifteen percent also reported neck pain.

·Two-thirds of high school students exercised regularly, but only one-third of adults reported being physically active during their leisure time.

·As many as 24 percent of men and 19 percent of women were smoking in 2003.

·Infant mortality continued to decline in 2003, to 6.9 deaths per 1,000 live irths.

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