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Skyrocketing Chronic Disease Rates Threaten Lifespan Gains: Report

The life expectancy of Americans, which has been growing for decades, has slowed as skyrocketing rates of obesity, diabetes, and other preventable conditions are taking an increasing toll on the nation’s overall health and longevity.
The life expectancy of Americans, which has been growing for decades, has slowed as skyrocketing rates of obesity, diabetes, and other preventable conditions are taking an increasing toll on the nation’s overall health and longevity.

That’s the upshot of a new report card on America’s health that warns that chronic diseases tied to unhealthy lifestyles are accompanying many Americans into old age.

“The major issue is that while we are living longer, we are also living sicker,” says Dr. Rhonda Randall, chief medical officer for United Healthcare Retiree Solutions, whose foundation unveiled its 2015 America Health Rankings report Thursday.

Federal officials this week announced that the life expectancy of Americans had stalled, and that a child born today could expect to live 78 years and 9 ½ months, the same lifespan as babies born in 2013 and 2014.

The last time such a stall occurred was in the mid-1980s, but since then life expectancy had been growing, most recently due to the decrease in smoking, as well as improved medical care for chronic and infectious diseases, Dr. Randall says.

The nation’s sharply rising rates of obesity and diabetes, both preventable conditions, are the primarily culprits, she says.

“Above all we have to address the increases in diabetes and obesity. If we do not there is no way we will ever be able to afford the medical care required to treat preventable illness, especially as our lifespans increase,” Dr. Randall warns.

There is some good news in the new report. Deaths from cardiovascular disease (heart attack and stroke) have declined 23 percent over the past 10 years, from about 327 deaths to nearly 251 per 100,000 people.

The report also found the annual death toll form from cancer decreased very slightly, dropping four percent over the past 25 years. Cancer now kills nearly 190 people per 100,000 compared to more than 197 in 1990.

Another positive trend was a decline in the number of Americans who smoke, which decreased five percent – from 19 percent of adults a year ago to 18.1 percent this year.

The report also indicated that Americans are now slightly more active, with only about one fifth (22.6 percent) of adults leading inactive sedentary lifestyles, compared to one-quarter (25.3 percent) a year ago.

In particular, though, the report noted the following trends when it comes the three following major preventable causes of chronic disease:

Obesity: According to the report, obesity contributes to an estimated 200,000 deaths a year and is a leading factor in such preventable conditions as heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, stroke, cancer, hypertension, liver disease, kidney disease, Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, respiratory conditions, and osteoarthritis. Obesity continues to rise at an alarming rate, increasing 7 percent in just the past two years. More than a third of American adults are obese.
Diabetes: The metabolic disorder is the nation’s seventh largest cause of preventable deaths and the rate continues to climb. About 10 percent of American adults have diabetes, compared to 4.4 percent about 20 years ago, the report noted. Rates of prediabetes, in which blood sugar levels are elevated but not night enough to result in a diabetes diagnosis, are also rising in the U.S., independent studies show.

High blood pressure: Also known as hypertension, high blood pressure hikes heart disease and stroke risk, and now affects one in three Americans, with only about half (52 percent) of those who have it saying it is controlled, the report said.

While these were the major conditions the report focused on, other life-threatening and chronic diseases are also on the rise, health officials say.

The growing prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease, for instance, is another threat to both longevity and quality of life. By 2050, the number of people age 65 and older with Alzheimer’s disease may nearly triple, from five million today to as many as 16 million, statistics show.

Although it isn’t known what causes Alzheimer’s disease, evidence from a growing number of studies find that the same factors that help reduce cardiovascular disease – such as exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, controlling cholesterol levels – improve memory and may also possibly prevent Alzheimer’s.

Another preventable disease linked to lifestyle is skin cancer, which is also soaring. More than two million people in the U.S. develop non-melanoma skin cancer every year, which is the most common form of cancer. The rate of this type of skin cancer has skyrocketed 300 percent since 1994.

The life expectancy of Americans, which has been growing for decades, has slowed as skyrocketing rates of obesity, diabetes, and other preventable conditions are taking an increasing toll on the nation’s overall health and longevity.

That’s the upshot of a new report card on America’s health that warns that chronic diseases tied to unhealthy lifestyles are accompanying many Americans into old age.

“The major issue is that while we are living longer, we are also living sicker,” says Dr. Rhonda Randall, chief medical officer for United Healthcare Retiree Solutions, whose foundation unveiled its 2015 America Health Rankings report Thursday.

Federal officials this week announced that the life expectancy of Americans had stalled, and that a child born today could expect to live 78 years and 9 ½ months, the same lifespan as babies born in 2013 and 2014.

The last time such a stall occurred was in the mid-1980s, but since then life expectancy had been growing, most recently due to the decrease in smoking, as well as improved medical care for chronic and infectious diseases, Dr. Randall says.

The nation’s sharply rising rates of obesity and diabetes, both preventable conditions, are the primarily culprits, she says.

“Above all we have to address the increases in diabetes and obesity. If we do not there is no way we will ever be able to afford the medical care required to treat preventable illness, especially as our lifespans increase,” Dr. Randall warns.

There is some good news in the new report. Deaths from cardiovascular disease (heart attack and stroke) have declined 23 percent over the past 10 years, from about 327 deaths to nearly 251 per 100,000 people.

The report also found the annual death toll form from cancer decreased very slightly, dropping four percent over the past 25 years. Cancer now kills nearly 190 people per 100,000 compared to more than 197 in 1990.

Another positive trend was a decline in the number of Americans who smoke, which decreased five percent – from 19 percent of adults a year ago to 18.1 percent this year.

The report also indicated that Americans are now slightly more active, with only about one fifth (22.6 percent) of adults leading inactive sedentary lifestyles, compared to one-quarter (25.3 percent) a year ago.

In particular, though, the report noted the following trends when it comes the three following major preventable causes of chronic disease:

Obesity: According to the report, obesity contributes to an estimated 200,000 deaths a year and is a leading factor in such preventable conditions as heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, stroke, cancer, hypertension, liver disease, kidney disease, Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, respiratory conditions, and osteoarthritis. Obesity continues to rise at an alarming rate, increasing 7 percent in just the past two years. More than a third of American adults are obese.

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Diabetes: The metabolic disorder is the nation’s seventh largest cause of preventable deaths and the rate continues to climb. About 10 percent of American adults have diabetes, compared to 4.4 percent about 20 years ago, the report noted. Rates of prediabetes, in which blood sugar levels are elevated but not night enough to result in a diabetes diagnosis, are also rising in the U.S., independent studies show.

High blood pressure: Also known as hypertension, high blood pressure hikes heart disease and stroke risk, and now affects one in three Americans, with only about half (52 percent) of those who have it saying it is controlled, the report said.

While these were the major conditions the report focused on, other life-threatening and chronic diseases are also on the rise, health officials say.

The growing prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease, for instance, is another threat to both longevity and quality of life. By 2050, the number of people age 65 and older with Alzheimer’s disease may nearly triple, from five million today to as many as 16 million, statistics show.

Although it isn’t known what causes Alzheimer’s disease, evidence from a growing number of studies find that the same factors that help reduce cardiovascular disease – such as exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, controlling cholesterol levels – improve memory and may also possibly prevent Alzheimer’s.

Another preventable disease linked to lifestyle is skin cancer, which is also soaring. More than two million people in the U.S. develop non-melanoma skin cancer every year, which is the most common form of cancer. The rate of this type of skin cancer has skyrocketed 300 percent since 1994.

Although it is treatable and not as life-threatening as melanoma, such skin cancer tumors still kill about 2,000 people a year and can be highly disfiguring. Not only that, but people with this form of skin cancer have double the chance of developing other types of cancer, the Skin Cancer Foundation says.

Melanoma, the most deadly type of skin cancer, is far more rare, accounting for only 2 percent of all cancers. But the rate of this form of skin cancer has been rising since the 1970s as well.

The causes of skin cancer include exposure to radiation from the sun as well as the growing popularity of tanning beds, making this form of cancer highly preventable.

Dr. Randall says the U.S. healthcare system does an excellent job treating health conditions and prolonging life, but that it is up to Americans to do their part in reining in preventable diseases such as obesity and diabetes.

“Our challenge now is to continue to make progress in such areas as physical activity and better nutrition,” Dr. Randall notes.