Public Health

Data Suggest Nation's Health Declines Even As Many Habits Improve

As Democrats' year-long campaign to overhaul the health system stumbles, it is a good time to examine the nation's latest collective health screening. Amid frequent reminders about health care's soaring costs, a recent report by a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention office, yields a depressing conclusion: Americans' health seems to be getting worse, despite some well-intentioned efforts.

Glass of whiskey. i i

The latest statistics suggest Americans are falling short of goals set for physical activity, obesity, substance abuse and access to health care. istockphoto.com hide caption

itoggle caption istockphoto.com
Glass of whiskey.

The latest statistics suggest Americans are falling short of goals set for physical activity, obesity, substance abuse and access to health care.

istockphoto.com

Americans were more likely, in the first six months of 2009 than in past years, to be obese (27.6 percent), have Type 2 diabetes, suffer from asthma and drink too much.

People were generally feeling lousier than in 1997, the first year represented in the data. A record 7.2 percent of people in the U.S. "failed to obtain needed medical care" during that period, and the rate of uninsured people inched up to 15.1 percent.

Puzzlingly, all this bad news comes even as more people are doing things meant to improve their health. Far more folks — a 4 percent increase — were working out in the first half of 2009, compared with the first six months of 2008.

The six-month time period also saw the highest portion of Americans getting seasonal flu vaccines, being tested for HIV, and quitting smoking, at least since the data started being collected in 1997.

(The New York Times has a handy chart today detailing some key indicators).

The report includes measures that track progress on several of the key health goals — physical activity, obesity, substance abuse and access to health care — that the Department of Health and Human Services sets each decade in its "Health People" initiative.

The latest statistics suggest the country has fallen short on those goals, such as reversing an explosion of obesity in the previous two decades, despite some improvements. Meanwhile, U.S. spending on health care nearly doubled from $1.13 trillion in 1997 to an estimated $2.3 trillion in 2008.

The Times focused attention on the CDC group's report, which included a set of early estimates first published in December, in a story today. It looks like the researchers' latest findings slipped under the news media's radar during the holiday break, although fragments have turned up in news articles.

The final analysis of the data isn't due until next year, so we won't know for sure whether the U.S. is making grade until then. In the meantime, HHS is looking ahead to its 2020 goals.

Weaver is a reporter for Kaiser Health News, a nonprofit news service.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.