- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 2, 2000

Though senior citizens are eating better and smoking less, there is more they could be doing to improve their health, say doctors at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
The CDC's main concern with the elderly is that many are not availing themselves of procedures intended to prevent or detect chronic illness, says Dr. James Marks, director of CDC's National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.
Dr. Marks says less than a third of people age 55 and older have had a simple screening for colorectal cancer, a type of cancer that is curable if caught early. As a result, their lives may be shortened, or they may live their last years with a poor quality of health, he says.
"A nationwide effort is needed to both promote healthy behaviors among the elderly and to make them aware of the value and availability of preventive health services," Dr. Marks says. "People are doing better than they have in the past, but we still have a long way to go."
Among other findings in the CDC's December statistical profile of elderly Americans:
The consumption of high-fiber fruits and vegetables is up but not enough. The percentage of seniors eating the recommended five or more fruits and vegetables per day increased between 1994 and 1996, although more than 60 percent still do not eat the recommended daily allowance.
The percentage of older Americans who smoke has declined. About 21 percent of Americans age 55 to 64 smoked between 1995 and 1997. The smoking rate was 13.3 percent for those age 65 to 74 and 6.8 percent among those older than 75, but according to the CDC, the decrease in smoking with age was due in part to the deaths of older smokers.
More seniors need to get moving. One-third of Americans ages 55 to 74 were physically inactive, while 46 percent of those older than 74 said they never engaged in physical activity.
One third of Americans over age 70 had hearing problems, and 18 percent had problems with their eyesight. Almost half (49 percent) of adults 65 and older suffered from arthritis, the most common chronic condition among the elderly.
The use of breast cancer screening among women decreased as they aged. The CDC found that 77 percent of women ages 55 to 64 had routine screenings. Only 61 percent of women 75 and older had tests such a mammograms to check for the disease, even though a woman's chances of getting breast cancer increase with age.
The use of preventive health services such as vaccinations varied from state to state. Among the most used were the flu vaccine (54 to 74 percent) and the pneumococcal vaccine (32 to 59 percent). CDC officials say one of the goals for 2000 is to increase both levels to 60 percent or more among people 65 and older.
"Disease and disability need not be inevitable consequences of aging," says CDC Director Dr. Jeffrey Koplan. "Simple changes in lifestyle more physical activity, a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables and whole grains, and using preventive services such as mammograms, colorectal cancer screenings and vaccinations can contribute to more years of health and a better quality of life."
The CDC snapshot included data from various surveys, some of which defined the elderly as those over age 55 and some of which used 65 as the defining age.
The health agency said the elderly accounted for 35 percent of the $310 billion spent on personal health care in 1995, even though they accounted for only 13 percent of the nation's population.

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