For many Americans, a long life and a healthy life don’t always go hand in hand, according to a recent nationwide analysis.
The life expectancy of the average American is 78.5 years, but chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease, plague an increasing number of people each year.
“As a nation, we’ve made extraordinary gains in longevity over the past decades,” says Reed Tuckson, M.D., a medical advisor for the United Health Foundation—which just released the 2012 edition of its “America’s Health Rankings” report. “But, as individuals we are regressing in our health.” In essence, our lives are getting longer, but not better.
For the report, investigators evaluated each state using data on 24 separate health-influencers, including behaviors such as smoking, binge drinking, obesity; environmental factors such as violent crime and infectious diseases; policies that affect access to health care and rates of health conditions such as diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular deaths.
The toll of long lives, unhealthily lived
While a variety of factors play into the increasing prevalence of chronic ailments, experts place much of the blame on rapidly rising rates of obesity and sedentary behavior.
“Longer lives need not be sicker lives, so we must all come together to do more to prevent the risk factors within our personal control,” says Tuckson.
Since 1990, the number of Americans who qualify as obese has skyrocketed by more than 137 percent, according to the United Health Foundation. The 2012 report indicates that nearly 28 percent of American adults are dangerously overweight.
Leading an inactive lifestyle goes hand in hand with being overweight.
Over a quarter of the U.S. is consistently sedentary—which means going 30 days or more without engaging in significant physical activity.
In Louisiana and Mississippi (which tied for 49th place as the two unhealthiest states) over one-third of the population qualifies as being sedentary.
It’s unsurprising that one out of every eight people in these states have diabetes, compared to a national average of one in eleven.
Tuckson warns that this dangerous combination of sloth and gluttony, if not changed, will have a dire impact not only on individual health, but the entire health-care system as a whole. “A freight train of preventable chronic illnesses is going to crash into our health care system unless we take action now,” he says.