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Longevity without vitality: Americans live longer but endure declining health

Published on January 19, 2024

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only one-quarter of Americans get enough exercise due to various social, community, and policy impediments.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only one-quarter of Americans get enough exercise due to various social, community, and policy impediments. Image Credit: PickPic


By Janae Bowens

WASHINGTON (TND) – Americans are living longer, but are also sick for more of their lives.

Analysis from the Wall Street Journal‘s Alex Janin shows the estimated average of life spent in good health declined to 83.6% in 2021, which is down from 85.8% in 1990. This is all based on data from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation’s (IHME) Global Burden of Disease study, a research effort based at the University of Washington.

We’ve had these big treatment advances for major killers like heart disease and cancer that have turned these fatal illnesses into chronic ones. So, you know, we’re not dying, as much as we were from those diseases,” Janin said in an interview with The National Desk. “That longer lifespan gives us the opportunity to develop more of those age-associated conditions.

According to IHME’s Dr. Theo Vos, developing diseases throughout your life impacts a person’s good health span.

“You have a number of things that arise during childhood, sometimes from birth, if something goes wrong with the delivery, or if it’s a preterm birth, sometimes it’s childhood infections. And in a number of cases, these lead to long-term problems,” he said.

Vos explained how teenagers and young adults can develop depression, anxiety, and substance abuse disorders, especially opioid dependence.

And then we move to later years, you start getting things like diabetes. Diabetes is an important driver of disability not only from the disease itself but the consequences that follow diabetes like effects on your kidneys, on your heart, along with the increased risk of stroke, all of that plays a role,” Vos added.

Dr. Anand Parekh, Chief Medical Adviser for the Bipartisan Policy Center, said millions of Americans are facing multiple chronic diseases at the same time including diabetes, heart disease, dementia, addiction, and cancer, which takes a toll on the quality of life.

“What’s driving this burden of chronic diseases, it’s really the continued existence of chronic disease risk factors, think about tobacco use and lack of physical activity and poor diet, certainly obesity, lack of mental health, all of these things are driving chronic diseases,” Parekh explained.

Also, our population is getting older, we are aging, the median age of our population is increasing as well. So for all of these reasons, when you ask people how well they are, when they rate their general health, what you’re seeing are more and more Americans feeling like they are alive, but they are not in the state of health, they’d like to be.

Parekh said the key is more preventative measures so more Americans can not only live longer but live healthier too.


JUNE 16, 2023 – Swannanoa woman Ruth Penland is getting ready to celebrate her 105th birthday, and she shared with News 13 that she credits always being on the move and living a healthy lifestyle for her longevity, as well as her faith and surrounding family for helping her on her life journey. (Photo credit: WLOS staff)


“This is sort of the silver lining is it’s preventable. It’s preventable if we get early primary care, if our communities are healthy, if we can access the services when we need them. So there are solutions here to sort of reverse what we’re seeing, in terms of this poor quality of life that millions of Americans are facing,” he said.

“I get the sense from a lot of the aging researchers and doctors that I speak to that the US healthcare system is more reactive than it is proactive,” Janin said.

Parekh also said social isolation and loneliness negatively impact people’s health too. In addition to a balanced diet, exercising, and preventative care, having healthy friendships will help improve a person’s quality of life as well.

A Centenarian’s Keys to Longevity

Dr. Bennie Fleming, who served as a nurse in World War II, turned 100 years old a few months ago.

She told Sinclair’s Rhode Island station she still walks two miles every day, drives, and is an avid gardener.

If there’s a lesson in learning how to live, it’s to try to help somebody along the way, and just don’t try to be so negative.

Fleming is doing what a lot of Americans need to not just live long but live in good health.

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