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Americans Live Longer Despite Poorer Health

Americans Live Longer Despite Poorer Health
April 28
12:59 2016
A University of South Carolina study suggests that longevity is not necessarily a sign of good health. In fact, it might mean the opposite.

The study, which examined life expectancy and disability trends between 1970 and 2010, found that while longevity has increased for the average American over the past 4 decades, so has the amount of time spent living in poor health.

“We could be increasing the length of poor quality life more than good-quality life,” concludes lead study author and USC professor Eileen Crimmins.

“There are a number of indications that the Baby Boomer generation that is now reaching old age is not seeing improvements in health similar to the older groups that went before them,” explains the AARP Professor of Gerontology.

According to the study, only those age 65 and older experienced a “compression of morbidity” or reduction in the number of years spent struggling with disability.

The study’s findings have serious implications for policymaking; in particular, proposals to raise the retirement age for Medicare and Social Security eligibility.

“Clearly, there is a need to maintain health and reduce disability at younger ages to have meaningful compression of morbidity across the age range,” says Crimmins. “The trends for the last 40 years do not support projections and policies that are based on assumptions of a reduced length of disabled life.”

The Data

data-brainOver the course of the study, women experienced:

• An increase in life expectancy, from 74.6 years to 81 years
• An average of 3.6 more years living with disability
• A 2.7-year increase in years spent living without disability

Over the course of the study, men experienced:

•An increase in life expectancy, from 67.2 years to 76.2 years
•An average of 4.7 more years living with disability
•A 4.5-year increase in years spent living without disability

“The smaller increase in healthy life than in total life for women was surprising and another indication that American women have not done as well as American men in terms of improving health in recent decades,” laments Crimmins.

There is much speculation as to the factors that cause disability in different age groups. Some argue, for example, that an increase in disability in younger populations is due to a greater focus on mental health, changes in drug use, and increased diagnoses of ADD and autism.

The study: Trends Over 4 Decades in Disability-Free Life Expectancy in the United States
Published in: American Journal of Public Health (online)
Study authors: Eileen Crimmins, Yuan Zhang, and Yasuhiko Saito of USC

About Author

April Kuhlman

April Kuhlman

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