Americans’ Life Expectancy Up Despite Some Bad Health Habits


The U.S. was issued a report card on its overall health, and the results showed a bit of a paradox. Life expectancy has reached an all-time high even though far too many of us weigh too much and spend too much time on the sofa.

On the positive side, however, fewer of us are smoking.

The annual America’s Health Rankings survey showed that life expectancy in the U.S. has climbed to 78.8 years. Another significant finding is that the number of people who smoke declined 3 percent from 2013 to 2014. That’s a continuation of the downward trend in smoking rates over the past two decades. The survey showed that now, 19 percent of U.S. adults smoke, compared with 29.5 percent when the report first started tracking health-related data in 1990.

But obesity continues to be a major health issue for Americans. For too many of us, the number on the scale is way too high.

In 2014, 29.4 percent of American adults were considered obese. That’s an uptick from 27.6 percent in 2013, and an increase of more than two and a half times over the 11.6 percent rate in 1990.

The supersizing of the American public coincides with another not-so-positive finding by the survey – more of us are not participating in any physical activity. The percentage of those who said they participated in no physical activity was 23.5 percent in 2014, up from 22.9 percent last year.

The combination of obesity and physical inactivity is resulting in more Americans developing and living with chronic health conditions, particularly diabetes. The survey found that the number of Americans with diabetes more than doubled since 1990, with 9.6 percent of us living with the disease. Even more troubling, health experts say, is that many more Americans have diabetes but are not aware of it.

The report card found the Americans are improving in some health-related subjects. For one thing, infant mortality dropped 4 percent since 2013, and now stands at 6.0 cases for every live 1,000 births, a 41 percent decrease since 1990. More of our adolescents have been immunized against disease – an increase of 5 percent since last year. Since 1990, cardiovascular deaths dropped by 38 percent, and premature death decreased 20 percent.

We have three weeks remaining in 2014 and many of us are thinking about our resolutions for the New Year. Losing weight and getting physically fit traditionally top the list of resolutions that Americans make (and frequently break) each year. When you are discussing your clients’ future financial plans, perhaps it would be a good idea to plant the idea that improving their health is another way they might increase their wealth.


Susan Rupe is assistant editor for InsuranceNewsNet. She formerly served as communications director for an insurance agents' association and was an award-winning newspaper reporter and editor. Connect with Susan →

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