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Americans Living Longer, but Many Die from Preventable Causes

A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that Americans are living longer than ever before – almost 79 years on average, one year more than 10 years ago. However, seven of 10 deaths are due to chronic diseases that are largely preventable. While the population on average is living a bit longer, poor diet, lack of exercise, and smoking continue to cost the country billions of dollars in health care and lost productivity.

The CDC National Health Report 2014 offers a snapshot of the nation’s health, based on annual changes from 2005 to the year for which the latest data are available (2010 to 2013), garnered from 20 health surveys or surveillance systems.

Some of the most positive changes in the population’s health were in child health – specifically, the rates for teen births, infant deaths, vaccinations and breastfeeding.
Progress in the Leading Causes of Death Chart

The analysis found while death rates declined for 9 of the 10 leading causes of death, significant progress was made for only six (see table), when evaluated against national health targets set by the CDC.

Cancer and heart disease cause nearly half of all U.S. deaths, but progress has been mixed on risk factors and preventive strategies. Smoking rates are lower, more people are screened for some cancers, but too few adults and youth are exercising regularly or eating a healthy diet.

Tobacco use is still the leading cause of death and disease, responsible for one in every five deaths – almost half a million each year. One of every six youngsters smoke.

Obesity is costing the nation about $147 billion annually in medical expenses. Obesity rates have risen slightly since 2005, with a third of all children and adults obese.

Other aspects of child health showed more positive trends. The infant death rate has declined slightly to 6.0 deaths per 1,000 births. More children under age 3 are being vaccinated, and almost half of all infants are being breastfed. More good news is that the teenage birth rate has declined sharply: In 2012, 27 of every 1,000 births were to teenage mothers, compared to 40 of every 1,000 births in 2005. However, financial costs associated with teen births were estimated to be $9.4 billion annually.

Trends were mixed for other health indicators, such as infections and infectious diseases. Incident rates for foodborne illnesses worsened or stalled; some improvement was seen in health-care associated infections; and despite some positive gains for HIV infections, rates increased for other sexually transmitted or blood-borne infections, possibly due to better reporting.

Suicide became the 10th leading cause of death in 2008. Since then, it has maintained that ranking, with the age-adjusted suicide rate increasing by 2 percent each year.

Positive gains in the nation’s health since 2005 are part of a larger trend over the last century that reduced deaths from infectious diseases. More recently, the biggest improvements in health have come from “prevention strategies with a strong evidence base,” such as those that have curtailed tobacco use and motor vehicle-related injuries, the report stated.

Big areas of concern are obesity-related chronic disease, emerging influenza strains, infections in health care settings and from the food supply, and poisonings from drug overdoses, which are the leading cause of injury deaths. “A recent analysis demonstrated that approximately 250,000 deaths each year attributed to just the top five leading causes could be prevented,” the report stated.