Live Longer, But Die Sicker

We may be living longer.  But we're not living healthier.

That's the result of a recent study of the U.S. population that's the largest in 15 years, according to the WSJ's Ron Winslow.

Compared to other developed nations, "death rates from illnesses associated with obesity, such as diabetes and kidney disease, as well as neurological conditions like Alzheimer's disease, are on the rise" here, Winslow reports.

Winslow, who interviewed the researcher who led the study, Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington in Seattle., quoted him as saying, "Despite gains in longevity, Americans are living the extra years 'not necessarily in good health.'"

Why?  We're getting larger.  The rates of many illnesses, like heart disease and cancer, are more and more being linked to obesity, while those of diabetes and kidney failure, which are known outcomes of obesity, are soaring. 

The analysis was based on data for 291 diseases and 67 risk factors for disease, as well as a variety of government-sponsored health surveys.

Winslow said many experts see this whole declining health thing in terms of finance.  He quotes Harvey V. Fineberg, president of the Institute of Medicine, who said in an editorial accompanying the report, "Despite a level of health expenditures that would have seemed unthinkable a generation ago, the health of the U.S. population has improved only gradually and has fallen behind the pace of progress in many other wealthy nations."

The IOM advises the government on health matters.  The report also pointed out that U.S. ranking fell among the 34 members of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, a think tank for developed countries, which puts us at a disadvantage for people seeking jobs globally, Winslow quotes Michael Roizen, chief wellness officer at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio.

The answers seem simple.  Winslow writes that Roizen lists them as better diet, smaller food portions, increased physical activity, quitting smoking and better management of stress.  "They are things we totally have control over," he told Winslow."It's a matter of us getting serious about this."

Ironically, though life expectancy in this country rose to 78.2 in 2010, three years more than in 1990, the average person was in good health for just 68.1 of those years on average, the report found, according to Winslow.

With obesity a growing epidemic in the U.S., poor dietary habits have pushed smoking off the top of the risk list for death, the study found.

So yes, we may live to our 80s, even 90s, and some lucky ones (including my mother-in-law's family), into their 100s.  But do we want to go there feeble and frail and fat?  I don't think so.  There's still time for most of us to restructure our lives to include more healthy food and exercise.  It's not hard.  We just need to do it.


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