Americans today live 3.8 years longer compared to twenty years ago
Medical advances, new drugs and technologies have Americans living 3.8 years longer in comparison to Americans two decades ago but does this mean this longer life expectancy is due to being active and healthy?
In a first of its kind study Dr. Allison Rosen, MD, MPH, ScD, associate professor of Quantitative Health Sciences, associate professor of Quantitative Health Sciences at the University of Massachusetts Medical School (UMMS) along with Dr. David Cutler, PhD, professor of economics at Harvard University and Susan T. Stewart, research specialist with the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), Cambridge, measured how the quality-adjusted life expectancy (QALE) of all Americans has changed over time.
According to Dr. Rosen "QALE tells us more than how long a person can expect to live.” "It tells us what the relative quality of those added years is in terms of physical, emotional and mental well-being. Though many studies have measured this in different ways, this is really the first time we've been able to capture this type of information across the whole U.S. population over an extended period."
Researchers combined data from multiple government-sponsored health surveys conducted over the last 21 years; the National Medical Expenditure Survey (1987), National Health Interview Survey (1987, 1994–1995, 1996), Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (1992, 1996, 2000–2008), National Nursing Home Survey (1985, 1995, and 1999), and Medicare Current Beneficiary Survey (1992, 1994–2008).
The data revealed that Americans are living longer, have few symptoms of disease, more energy and have shown less impairment in everyday tasks such as walking.
The results showed Years of QALE increased overall and for all demographic groups—men, women, Whites, and Blacks, despite being slowed by obesity and a raising predominance of symptoms and impairments.
According to the study a 25 year old person today can expect to live 2.4 quality years longer in comparison to those who lived in 1987. A 65 year old person today can expect to gain 1.7 quality years , a 14% increase compared to those from a generation ago.
Thanks to improvements in health care, many conditions are far more treatable today than 25 years ago, said Dr. Rosen. For example, heart disease was potentially much more debilitating a generation ago and patients often suffered a decline in quality of life as a result. Dr. Rosen comments “Today, it is far less likely that a patient recovering from a heart attack will become institutionalized or need around-the-clock care the way they once might have.”
Today, Americans are more likely to see quality of life declines related to chronic, degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and dementia, while younger Americans appear to be experiencing problems related to a sedentary lifestyle.
However, the researchers did find some disturbing health trends among Americans today. Starting in 2001, there was increase of anxiety among young and middle-aged people. Problems with walking have increased greatly among those who are not elderly.
In their conclusion the team writes “Understanding and consistently tracking the drivers of QALE change is central to informed policymaking. Harmonizing data from multiple national surveys is an important step in building this infrastructure.”
Dr. Rosen comments “comprehensive measures of the overall health of the nation are practically nonexistent.” This study shows how existing national data can be used to systematically measure whether the population is getting healthier, not just living longer.”
“Having a consistent measure of population health represents a major advance in our ability to measure the impact of health care reform on the health, not just the health care use of all Americans.” “The bottom line in assessing the success of the ACA is whether or not we are getting the most health from our investment of increasingly limited resources. Are we getting the most health bang for our bucks?”
This study is published in the American Journal of Public Health.