Americans are living longer lives, but we are living out these longer lives with chronic illnesses in large part due to our lifestyle choices, including eating unhealthy diets, failing to exercise, smoking, and using alcohol and drugs, according to research led by researchers at the University of Washington.
In the analysis, the researchers looked the causes of death and disability in 187 countries around the world. The study was led by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
A live webcast will be held tomorrow, March 5 from 9 am to 10:30 am PST, in which Microsoft founder Bill Gates, UW President Michael Young, and and IHME Director Dr. Chris Murray help launch a new suite of online data visualization tools.
The webcast can be viewed at http://www.healthmetricsandevaluation.org/gbd/live.
Researchers from more than 303 institutions and 50 countries contributed to the project, called the Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study 2010.
US: a “mixed picture”
Analysis of the US health data revealed a “mixed picture” the researchers said: we are living longer but many of us are not enjoying a healthy old age.
The average life expectancy of American women, for example, increased from 78.6 years in 1990 to 80.5 years in 2010, yet only 69.5 of those 80.5 years were lived in good health.
The picture was the same for American men who in 2010 lived, on average, to be 75.9 years old – up from 71.7 in 1990 – but only 66.2 of those years are healthy.
Most of the illness and death in the US is caused by relatively few conditions. The top causes of death and disability were ischemic heart disease, followed by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, low back pain, lung cancer, and major depressive disorders.
The analysis also found that the leading causes of death had changed over the past 20 years. Over those two decades,
- ischemic heart disease, stroke, and lung cancer remained the top three causes of death;
- chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lower respiratory infection, and colorectal and breast cancers had moved down;
- and diseases like diabetes, chronic kidney disease, and Alzheimer’s disease moved up.
US: Lagging behind
The study found that the US also lagged behind many wealthy and middle-income countries with Americans living shorter lives — and shorter healthy lives — than the residents of many other nations.
For example, men in 39 other countries – including Greece, Lebanon, and South Korea – live longer, and men in 30 other countries – such as Costa Rica, New Zealand, and Portugal – enjoy more years of good health.
American women fare about the same; in terms of life expectancy they are ranked 36th in the world, and in terms of healthy life expectancy they are ranked 35th, the analysis found.
We are doing so poorly because of our lifestyle choices:
- The number one culprit: a diet that puts us at risk for such obesity-related illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes.
- Number two: smoking, which leads to lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, heart disease and stroke.
To learn more:
- You can explore the data for the US and other nations using interactive online tools at www.healthmetricsandevaluation.org/gbd