Major Study Finds That Overall Population Health in U.S. Has Improved, But Has Not Kept Pace With Other Wealthy Nations

Americans are living longer lives but are spending more years afflicted with major illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease, kidney disease, and mental and behavioral disorders, according to a study published online in the Journal of American Medical Association. Researchers show that the overall population health improved in the U.S. in the last few decades, however, illness and chronic disability now account for nearly half of the country’s health burden.

The objective of the study was to measure the burden of diseases, injuries and leading risk factors in the U.S. from 1990 to 2010 and to compare these measurements with the 34 countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The researchers found that U.S. life expectancy for both sexes increased from 75.2 years in 1990 to 78.2 years in 2010; during the same period, healthy life expectancy increased from 65.8 years to 68.1 years. During this time period, improvements in population health in the U.S. did not keep pace with other wealthy nations. The authors note that the U.S. spends the most per capita on health care across all countries yet lags behind other high-income countries for life expectancy and many other health outcome measures.

In a recent national public opinion poll, two-thirds of Americans (66%) say that their quality of life has been improved by medical research and that the cost of health care is the most critical health issue in America today. We must continue to urge policy makers about the importance of funding medical research if we want to live healthier – not just longer – lives.

The full study is available online: http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1710486

Editor’s Note: This study is supported in part by the Intramural Program of the National Institutes of Health, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, and in part by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

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