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.