Americans living longer than ever before

New York: Life expectancy in the US has almost doubled in the last century. When the US population reached 100 million in 1915, the average lifespan was 54 years. When the population hit 200 million in 1967, it was around 70.

Today, with a population of 300 million the average lifespan of someone living in the US is nearly 78.

Some experts on aging believe that within 50 years, the average person living in an industrialized nation with good access to health care will live to be at least 100.

During the first half of the 20th century revolutionary advances in medicine and public health were responsible for raising the average life expectancy in the U.S. by more than 20 years — from age 47 in 1900 to age 68 in 1950.

According to the CDC, the 10 greatest medical and public health achievements of the 20th century were:

* Vaccination against disease, resulting in the eradication or elimination of major diseases of the early 20th century, such as smallpox and polio
* Control of infectious disease through improved sanitation, clean water sources, and the introduction of antibiotics
* Improvements in motor-vehicle safety
* Improved workplace safety
* Improved food safety
* Decline in deaths from heart disease and strokestroke
* Smaller families with longer birth intervals due to family planning
* Better prenatal care
* Fluoridation of drinking water
* Public health efforts to reduce smoking

The biggest single factor in the increase in life expectancy during the latter half of the 20th century and beyond has been the improvement in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of cardiovascular disease, the experts agree.

In just the last 25 years, there has been an almost 50% reduction in deaths from strokestroke and heart attacks in the U.S.

Cancer deaths are also declining, driven largely by public health efforts to educate Americans about the dangers of smoking. Lung cancer deaths among men have been declining since the mid-1970s, and increases among women have begun to stabilize.

Dramatic reductions in infant mortality and easier access to emergency care have also helped increase life expectancies in the last three decades of the 20th century.

Americans are living longer but are they living better? Are the extra years worth it in quality-of-life terms? Or are they filled with avoidable suffering related to failing health?

Certainly, most people who make it to their eighth decade experience age-related health challenges. The average 75-year-old has three chronic health conditions, and the list of chronic diseases that are linked to aging seems endless. Heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetesdiabetes, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseaseParkinson’s disease, and arthritisarthritis are just a few.

But there is some intriguing clinical evidence that in spite of their health problems, older people today really are happier, healthier, and are functioning better than their parents or grandparents.

Americans living longer than ever

Atlanta: Americans are living longer than every before, according to the latest statistics from the Centers for Disease Controla nd Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics. The average US life expenctancy is now a record 77.9 years.

The total number of deaths declined by almost 50,000, or 2.4%, from 2003 to 2004, the largest one-year drop in several decades, according to a preliminary report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics.

The last time the number of deaths fell instead of rose was in 1997, when there were 445 fewer deaths than in 1996.

Arialdi Minino, one of the authors of the report said: “The risk for dying in general in the U.S. population is decreasing,” Minino said. “The decrease from 2003 to 2004 was particularly sharp, and we’re still scratching our heads a little bit” as to why.

The life expectancy of Americans born in 2004 rose to 77.9 years from 77.5 years in 2003, making it the highest on record.

The gender gap is narrowing as well. Life expectancy for women is 80.4 years on average, up from 80.1 years in 2003. Men born in 2004 can expect to live 75.2 years, up from 74.8 years. The 5.2-year difference between the sexes was the smallest since 1946, the report said.

Dr. Robert Butler, president of the International Longevity Center and professor of geriatrics at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York, said it’s too soon to get excited about the one-year snapshot.

“I hope it’s a trend because not only are people living longer but with fewer disabilities,” he said.

A greater emphasis on controlling high cholesterol and high blood pressure with drug therapy along with declining smoking rates may be contributing to rising life expectancy, Butler said. But he noted that Americans still live shorter lives than residents of Scandinavian countries, France, Japan, Greece and Spain, and that obesity and its related health problems remain a serious threat to life-expectancy gains.

Many older people take better care of their health than the younger generations, he said. “Maybe it’s proximity to the possibility of death that gets people to behave better.”

On the other end of the age spectrum, the overall infant mortality rate was 6.7 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2004, a small increase from 2003, though the change wasn’t statistically significant, Minino said.

The infant mortality rate for blacks dropped 2.6% to 13.65 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2004, down from 14.01 deaths per 1,000 births in 2003.

Life expectancy for blacks born in 2004 improved as well but still trails that for whites. African Americans can expect to live 73.3 years, up from 72.7 years in 2003. Whites are likely to make it to age 78.3, up from 78 the year before, according to the report.

Some of the most prodigious killers such as heart disease and stroke appeared less lethal in 2004.

The number of deaths from heart disease, the nation’s No. 1 killer, dropped 6.4% to about 654,000, and cancer fatalities were down 2.9% to about 550,000, the report said.

Flu and pneumonia caused 7.3% fewer deaths in 2004 compared with 2003, while the number of deaths from stroke saw a 6.5% decline. Even those caused by accidents, the fifth leading cause of death, edged down 1.9%.

Still, decreases weren’t across the board. Deaths from high blood pressure rose 2.7% and those from Alzheimer’s disease increased 1.4% from 2003 to 2004, according to the report.

Far from being a burden on public programs such as Medicare and Social Security, the ability to live longer has produced a powerful market of older workers and consumers that companies are just beginning to court, Butler said.

“There’s been a huge boost because of increased longevity with housing, assisted living, travel, health care, financial services,” he said. “The Japanese call them the silver industries. We call them the mature market. Corporations are starting to realize this is a real boost economically.”

Butler said he’s hopeful that awareness campaigns and lifestyle changes will help start to reverse the nation’s obesity problem. “If it continued as the present, we would lose two to five years of life expectancy and it would be first time parents would live longer than their kids.”

US senior citizens set to double by 2030

Washington: The number of senior citizens in the US is expected to almost double within the next 25 years, says a new census report from the National Insititute on Aging.

By 2030, almost one in five Americans will be 65 or older, up from the current 12 percent.The eport does not project growth by state or county, but in 2000, Cook County had 630,265 people over 65, the second-largest elderly county in the nation, trailing only Los Angeles County. About 12 percent of Cook County residents are 65 or older.Statewide, Illinois had 1.5 million seniors, or about 12 percent of the total population. The number grew about 4 percent between 1990 and 2000.


1. Heart disease
2. Cancer
3. Stroke
4. Chronic respiratory diseases such bronchitis, emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
5. Pneumonia and influenza

1900: 47
1950: 68
1960: 70
1980: 74
1990: 75
2000: 77

It’s a baby boomer-fueled phenomenon, as the oldest begin to turn 65 in 2011. The growth will affect several facets of America, from family life to health care to public policy, note the authors of the report, “65 + in the United States: 2005.”

The growth likely will be expensive, as the ratio of younger, working people supporting older people shrinks, the researchers say. In 2000, there was one older person for every five working-age people; in 2030, there will be one older person for every three workers.

Other findings include the fact that Americans are living longer the average is now 77 years. The population older than 85 has almost doubled since 1980.

The health of older Americans is generally improving – in 1982, about 26 percent of senior citizens reported having a disability; in 1999, that dropped to about 20 percent. Many have quit smoking. But obesity is on the rise: 33 percent of men and 39 percent of senior women. And about 80 percent of seniors say they have at least one chronic health problem.

Tomorrow’s retirees will be better educated, which has been linked to longer life expectancy and health.

*Finances: About 10 percent of Americans over 65 were living in poverty in 2003, a significant improvement from 1959, when 35 percent were officially poor. (Of all American age groups, 12.5 percent live below the poverty level.)

About 19 percent are in the labor force; that number is projected to increase.

*Living alone: More seniors are divorced, mirroring American society as a whole. In 1960, only about 1.5 percent of senior Americans were divorced, but by 2003, that number grew to about 8 percent.

The median income for older households was $36,006 in 2003, though that number drops by half for elderly living alone, including widowers. More than one out of three women over 65 in Illinois live alone.

About half of the people over 65 need assistance with everyday activities. Marriage creates a larger social network of relatives and friends who can provide vital support at older ages, the researchers say.