Life expectancy soared over the last part of the 20th century as treatments for major diseases improved and infectious diseases were quelled by vaccines and better treatment. The most recent data, however, hint that life expectancy is no longer growing. And, according to a new study, we may spend more years sick than we did even a decade ago.
In a fascinating paper published Monday in the Journal of Gerontology, noted gerontologist Eileen Crimmins and her colleague Hiram Beltran-Sanchez, both of USC, suggest that the goal of a long life marked by mostly healthy years may not be possible for most of humanity.
According to the analysis, the average age of morbidity -- which is defined as the period of life spent with serious illness and lack of functional mobility -- has increased in the last two decades. For example, a 20-year-old man in 1998 could be expected to live an additional 45 years without at least one of these diseases: heart disease, cancer or diabetes. But that number fell to 43.8 in 2006. For women, the expected years of life without a major, serious disease fell from 49.2 years to 48 years over the last decade.
The study also found that the number of people who report a lack of mobility, such as not being able to walk up steps or walk a quarter mile, has increased.