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Health Problems Slow Gains in US Life Spans

Senior citizens in Youngstown, Ohio.

Senior citizens in Youngstown, Ohio.

This is the VOA Special English Health Report.

Americans spend more on health care than most other people. Yet a new study shows that life expectancy in the United States is falling behind other developed countries.

In two thousand seven an American man could expect to live about seventy-five and a half years. That was less than in thirty-six other countries. Life expectancy for American women was almost eighty-one years. They were also in thirty-seventh place among almost two hundred countries and territories.

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington studied the numbers. Professor Ali Mokdad says increases in life expectancy have slowed in the United States compared to other countries.

ALI MOKDAD: "We've seen an improvement almost everywhere in the world. And in countries that are developed, we're seeing a higher improvement, a faster improvement rate, than we are seeing in the United States."

Professor Mokdad says the reason is Americans have made less progress in reducing problems like obesity and high blood pressure.

The report also identifies wide differences in life expectancy rates within the United States. The researchers created maps of life expectancy in each of the more than three thousand counties.

Areas with the shortest expected life spans are largely in the South. Ali Mokdad says researchers know some of the reasons.

ALI MOKDAD: "Less education, less income in some of these rural counties, more likely to be smokers, more likely to be obese. They don't have health insurance, or they don't have adequate access to health care, and the quality of medical care is not as good as well."

In the United States, many public health matters are local responsibilities. Restrictions on public smoking, for example, differ from community to community. Some communities have more bicycle paths and other chances for physical activity, or more places to buy fresh fruits and vegetables.

ALI MOKDAD: "A long-term investment in their community to increase physical activity and improve diet are needed in this country.”

The study appears in the journal Population Health Metrics. Journal editor Chris Murray says at least one finding was unexpected.

CHRIS MURRAY: "It's a real surprise to us in the study that women are faring so much worse than men."

Around the country, American women still live longer than men by five to eight years. But their international ranking has been falling since the nineteen nineties. Dr. Murray says women are increasingly taking risks with their health.

CHRIS MURRAY: "Women are now smoking more. The obesity epidemic in women is greater than in men. Progress in tackling blood pressure is much worse in women."

In other news, the first report on the number of American births in twenty-ten shows another decrease. Births have been decreasing since an all-time high of more than 4.3 million in two thousand seven. Federal officials say state health departments reported just over four million births last year.

And that's the VOA Special English Health Report, written by Caty Weaver. I’m Steve Ember.


Contributing: Art Chimes and Carol Pearson