- The Washington Times - Friday, October 3, 2003

The good news is that Americans are living longer than ever, and they are trying to be prudent about health.

Our life expectancy has reached an all-time high of just over 77 years, according to a massive Health and Human Services (HHS) analysis of government statistics released yesterday.

Back in 1900, the average person lived to be 47.

We’re heeding good advice to get our flu shots and vaccinations; infant mortality is at a record low point; and teen pregnancy the lowest in six decades. The life expectancy gap between blacks and whites has also gone down “significantly” since 1990, the report noted.

Meanwhile, we still eat too much, we continue to smoke and the population of unwed mothers is way up: There were 399,000 “nonmarital childbirths” in 1970. By 2001, the figure reached 1.35 million, according to the report.

Diabetes has become troublesome, indeed. In the past five years, the percent of Americans diagnosed with the disease rose by 27 percent, making it the fifth-leading cause of death among women and sixth among men in 2001.

While he praises the progress Americans have made, HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson was prompted by the report to issue some traditional advice yesterday.

“There are simple steps we can all take, such as eating wisely and staying active, that can reduce the toll that diabetes, obesity and heart disease take on our lives,” he said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) agreed.

“Prevention is the only sure way to stem this epidemic,” said CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding yesterday, also advising one and all to eat healthy and exercise regularly.

Women, meanwhile, still live longer than men at 79.8 years, up a year since 1990. Men’s life expectancy was 74.4 years, an increase of more than two years since 1990.

Infant mortality reached a record low in 2001 of 6.8 deaths per 1,000 live births, down from 6.9 in 2000, while 78 percent of our toddlers are receiving their childhood immunizations. Two-thirds of our elderly got flu shots last year.

The teen birth rate is the lowest in more than six decades: 45 births per 1,000 young women ages 15 to 19, while 83 percent of all mothers received prenatal care in the first trimester in 2001, up from 76 percent in 1990.

Women are looking after themselves more. Eighty-one percent of adult women have had an up-to-date Pap test for cancer; in 1987 the rate was 74 percent. Women over 40 are also getting more mammograms. In 1987, 29 percent had a mammogram every two years. The figure was 70 percent by 2000.

But America is succumbing to the siren call of food, and lots of it. Obesity has more than doubled from 15 percent in the 1976-80 period to 31 percent in the 1999-2000 one. Sixty-five percent of adults ages 20 to 74 were overweight or obese in 1999-2000.

Anti-smoking campaigns aren’t resonating among adults either: 25 percent of men and 20 percent of women smoke, down only slightly from 1990. Youngsters, however, may get the message. Twenty-nine percent of high school students now smoke, down from 36 percent in 1997.

But exercise? Thirty-eight percent of female high school students and 24 percent of male students didn’t get enough exercise in 2001.

The complete report, “Health United States, 2003” was compiled using assorted statistics from the CDC and other federal health agencies, the U.S. Census Bureau and population surveys. The entire report can be viewed online (www.cdc.gov/nchs).

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