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Life Expectancy Hits 76.9 in U.S.; Health Costs Soar

Study: CDC statistics for 2000 show American men living to 74 and women to nearly 80. However, the medical care racial gap persists and adults are heavier.


Americans are living longer than ever and infant mortality is at a record low, according to a new government report on the state of the nation's health.

However, the cost of health care is rising yearly, and Americans are becoming fatter than ever. In addition, racial and ethnic health disparities--while continuing to narrow--are still significant.

These and many other statistics--many good, some bad--were released Thursday in a 430-page report prepared by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The annual report examined a wealth of data on the habits, health care costs, diseases and deaths of the U.S. population in 2000. "It shows what we're doing right, and where we still need to make improvements," said Edward J. Sondik, director of the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, which prepared the report.

The report noted great strides in the nation's health over the past century. "It's pleasing," said Dr. Linda Rosenstock, dean of UCLA's School of Public Health. "We continue to be able to highlight how investments in public health activities have a big payoff."

For instance, the average life expectancy at birth is now nearly 77 years, up from 47 a century ago. It is 74 years for men and nearly 80 for women, according to preliminary numbers.

Infant Deaths Decline

The infant mortality rate also has fallen, to 6.9 deaths per 1,000 births--a 75% drop since 1950 and a slight improvement from the 7.1 deaths reported in 1999.

Mortality rates at other stages of life also have dropped steeply for a variety of reasons. There are fewer deaths among children and adults from accidents, infectious diseases, cancer and heart disease.

The report also noted that rates of syphilis are at an all-time low since reporting on the sexually transmitted disease began in 1941. Homicide rates among black and Hispanic youth dropped nearly 50% in the 1990s; the percentage of adults who smoked dropped from over 40% in the 1960s to 23% in 2000.

Deaths from AIDS, which peaked in the 1980s, dropped after 1995 following the introduction of potent new medications.

But not all of the news is good. In 2000, 40,000 new cases of AIDS were reported. Homicide remains the leading cause of death among black men 15 to 24 and the second leading cause of death among young Hispanic men.

Racial Disparity

A black baby born in 2000 is still, on average, likely to live 5.6 fewer years than a white baby. That is an improvement on the seven-year gap that existed in 1990--but still a significant difference, said Rosenstock.

And though infant mortality and life expectancy have improved, this country still lags behind other nations, she said. Of 30 industrialized countries, the United States ranks 23rd in infant mortality and 12th in male life expectancy.

The study also showed that health care costs are continuing to rise in the United States. In 2000, America spent $1.3 trillion on health care, or 13% of the gross domestic product--a 6.9% increase from the previous year. The cost of drugs has increased 15% each year from 1995 to 2000.

This presents a huge problem for an aging population--and a situation that will worsen as the baby boomers age, said Scott Parkin, spokesman for the Washington-based National Council on the Aging, a nonprofit group concerned with aging issues. "The cost of drugs are out of sight and seniors are clamoring for help," he said.

Compounding the problem of increasing costs, more than 40 million people in this country are uninsured. "We spend almost twice as much as anyone else, but we are the only one of the industrialized countries in the world that does not have universal access to health care," Rosenstock said.

The nation is also heftier than it was prior to the late 1970s. About 60% of adult Americans are now overweight, as are 13% of children ages 6 to 11, according to early data. An estimated 40% of adults say they don't exercise in their leisure time.

"This worries me a lot," said Dr. Ravinder Singh, president of the Los Angeles chapter of the American Heart Assn. "If we don't change things, it's going to start swinging back the other way and incidences of heart disease and stroke are going to increase again."

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