TUESDAY, March 13 (HealthDay News) -- A look at statistics
stretching from 1935 to 2010 found significant improvements in
Americans' expected lifespans, mainly due to factors such as better
medical care and declines in smoking rates.
While death is, of course, inevitable for everyone, the average
American's overall risk of dying at a given point in time dropped
60 percent since 1935, the study found.
A combination of lifestyle changes and medical advances fueled
the dramatic drop in death rates, according to the U.S. Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention report published in the March
NCHS Data Brief.
"Overall, the improvement in mortality has been significant over the last 75 years," said report author Donna Hoyert, a health scientist at CDC's National Center for Health Statistics.
The reasons for this trend are varied, Hoyert said. "The way we
live now is much different than in the [1930s]. In the medical
field, there have been advances and changes in behavior over time,"
Among the most significant changes have been the decrease in
smoking rates and more aggressive treatment of heart disease, she
Dr. Laurence Gardner, executive dean for education and policy at
the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, agreed, noting
that "the big change was the cessation of smoking."
In addition, the introduction of antibiotics in the 1940s made a
huge impact. "There were some easily treatable potentially fatal
diseases, such as pneumonia, that all of a sudden we got
antibiotics for," Gardner said.
A more aggressive approach to treating cardiovascular disease
also evolved in the past 20 years, Gardner said.
"Even more important, the use of cholesterol-lowering drugs [statins] in such a large proportion of the population has contributed to decreased death rates," he said.
The advances in treatment were really only seen in one area --
cardiovascular disease, Gardner said. "The folks in the cancer
world are still pulling their hair out, because while there may be
increases in survival, the cure rates have not improved very much
despite the enormous efforts," he said, although he added that he
believes there will be advances in cancer treatment in the future
that will help lower mortality rates.
However, on the downside, the obesity epidemic is fueling a
diabetes epidemic, Gardner said. "If we don't effectively address
the obesity/diabetes issue, we may lose some of the benefit we have
gained," he stressed. "We haven't seen the effect of the epidemic
of obesity and diabetes reflected in the death rate [yet]."
Another issue is the growing cost of expensive medical
interventions. The United States spends more on health care than
any other nation, and there is a point of diminishing returns where
the costs outweigh the benefits, Gardner said.
"You can spend too much money, and not benefit the patient at all," he explained. "We do not manage the end-of-life care very well and we do spend unnecessary funds and cause some unnecessary hardship. We don't manage the end of life one wit."
Highlights of the report include:
To compile the statistics for the report, Hoyert used data from
the National Vital Statistics System for the 75 years covered,
including preliminary data for 2010.
For more on death rates, visit the
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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