The science and practice of health and medicine seem to be progressing so rapidly. There is seemingly a constant barrage of news stories on improvements in detection and monitoring, drug therapies, and high-tech treatments, not to mention reports about new ideas in nutrition and other lifestyle choices.
Despite this progress, new research suggests a different narrative. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and an analysis published in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows that life expectancy in the U.S. has recently dipped, and deaths from cardiometabolic diseases are on the rise. What does this mean, and what can you do about it?
Some Background: Gains from 1900-2000
How did we get to this point? Let us look back over a century. Life expectancy steadily increased in the twentieth century. A baby born in 1900 had a life expectancy of 47.3 years, while a baby born in 1950 had a life expectancy of 72 years. This dramatic increase was largely due to better hygiene and sanitation, antibiotics such as penicillin, and vaccinations, resulting in fewer infections diseases and fewer infant and early deaths.
The life expectancy continued to rise at a slower rate, hitting 76.8 in 2000. These additional gains reflected more progress against infectious diseases, as well as better detection and management of a new focus: chronic conditions. Earlier detection and treatment, and better medications help reduce the negative impact of chronic conditions such as heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, and others. In addition, researchers learned a lot about the amazing powers of smart lifestyle choices, such as eating well, sleeping enough, and getting regular physical activity, on chronic condition management.
Stalled Progress in Health Gains
With so much progress, it may come as a surprise that life expectancy has dipped. The life expectancy for an American born in 2016 is 78.6 years. For females, the number is 81.1 years, while males have a life expectancy at birth of 81.1 years. The difference is likely due to many factors, including hormonal differences, lifestyle choices, and approaches to medical care.
The trouble is that this life expectancy is lower than the previous year, which was lower than the year before that. This is the first time since 1962 and 1963 that the life expectancy decreased two years in a row.
Furthermore, cardiometabolic mortality has increased in recent years after years of decline. That is, deaths from diabetes and hypertension have increased, stroke mortality has remained stable overall, while increasing in certain subgroups, and heart disease deaths have decreased slightly overall, but increased among certain groups.
Disparities in Health Status
Another trend is that disparities remain. Black men and women are about twice as likely as white men and women, respectively, to die from diabetes or hypertension. Stroke and heart disease mortality rates are about 25 to 50% higher among blacks than whites. These disturbing trends have been present for decades, and have various causes. Minority groups are often less affluent, have less access to quality medical care, and are less health literate.
Causes of Poorer Health
What happened? The causes of the increase in cardiometabolic mortality, and the reduction in life expectancy, are not due to a dramatic increase in infectious diseases, a scarcity of safe drinking water, or a failure of vaccinations. Rather, they may be associated with poor health behaviors.
Luckily, these health behaviors are modifiable. That means you can do something about them. You can lower your risk for cardiometabolic conditions by:
Losing weight if you are overweight or obese.
Being physically active most days of the week.
Getting enough sleep.
Eating more vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and fruit.
Eating less fried and fast food, sugary foods and beverages, and red and processed meats.
In addition, you can manage your conditions and lower the risk of complications by taking any prescription medications properly.
Lower Your Risk
It is not easy to lose weight and make other healthy changes that can lower risk for diabetes, hypertension, and other conditions, but help is available. Lark can coach you in making small changes that can become habits. With 24/7 support, you can have reminders and information about good choices to stay as healthy as possible while sticking to your preferred lifestyle.