U.S. life expectancy on the rise, but progress lags global peers’

By:  Patricia Sullivan

Life expectancy in the United States is going up, but chronic disabilities, including many caused by bad food choices, smoking, obesity, physical inactivity and alcohol abuse, account for a larger portion of health issues in the United States than in its economic peers around the world, according to a new study by a global collaboration of scientists.

Since 1990, many childhood diseases are less prevalent, and there has been a dramatic reduction in sudden infant death syndrome from 6,000 to 1,500 per year, according to the study. There has also been a significant drop in death and disability from HIV/AIDS, and there are lower mortality rates for people of every age.

But other countries are improving faster. Americans born in 2010 could expect to live 78.2 years, up from 75.2 years in 1990, but that ranked 27th among the 34 nations considered its economic peers. The United States also ranked 27th in high body-mass index, an indicator of obesity, and 29th on blood sugar.

“The United States spends more than the rest of the world on health care and leads the world in the quality and quantity of its health research, but that doesn’t add up to better health outcomes,” said Christopher J.L. Murray, director of the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, and one of the study’s lead authors. “The country has done a good job of preventing premature deaths from stroke, but when it comes to lung cancer, preterm birth complications and a range of other causes, the country isn’t keeping pace with high-income countries in Europe, Asia and elsewhere.”

“The State of U.S. Health, 1990-2010,” published by the Journal of the American Medical Association on Wednesday, is “a landmark study, the first comprehensive box score of American health that’s been published,” said Howard C. Bauchner, the journal’s editor in chief.

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