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Twenty Years of Health in the US and Elsewhere

By July 16, 2013Commentary

A lengthy study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association compares health and risk factors for health in the United States for the period 1990 to 2010.   (JAMA Article)   The authors also compared those statistics and results with the same measures in the 34 countries in the OECD.  Comparisons were made across 291 diseases and conditions and 67 risk factors.  Important measures were years lost to premature mortality, years lived with a disability, and healthy life expectancy.  Over this twenty year period, life expectancy in the United States increased by 3 years, to 78.2 years, which itself has significant health spending consequences, and healthy life  expectancy improved by 2.5 years.  But at the same time, other OECD countries improved faster.  Years lost to premature death and years with a disability also increased, largely due to lifestyle-linked diseases, such as smoking, alcohol, being overweight and lack of exercise.  So while death rates at all ages have decreased and life expectancy has gone up, the burden of disease on the population as a whole has increased.  Since this is largely due to lifestyle issues, it is pretty clear that we will only solve this problem by increasing the notion of self-responsibility and creating strong incentives for people to either engage in healthy behaviors or pay the price themselves, not expect others to bear it for them.

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