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Americans Living Longer, Healthier Lives

But HealthyPeople 2010 Goals Still Not Met Yet in Crucial Areas
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Oct. 6, 2011 -- Americans are living a full year longer than they were a decade ago.

“Within one decade, U.S. life expectancy from birth increased to 77.8 from 76.8,” says Carter R. Blakey, acting director of disease prevention and health promotion at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in Washington, D.C. “That is tremendous.”

The main reasons we are living longer, healthier lives is because fewer Americans are dying from breast cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer, heart disease, and HIV.

These are some of the bigger “wins” that came out of HealthyPeople 2010. Each decade, the HHS sets lofty goals to improve the health of all Americans as part of the HealthyPeople program established in 1980.

HealthyPeople 2010 aimed to increase how long we live, how well we live, and to eliminate health disparities between ethnic and racial groups.

And by and large, “we are doing terrific,” she says.

“We do face persistent changes with respect to eliminating health disparities,” Blakey says. “We will continue to work on that as we move forward to Healthy People 2020.”

Other works in progress address the obesity epidemic and tobacco use, she says.

“We have made some gains in reducing the rate of tobacco use, but we still need more work,” Blakey tells WebMD.

“We also need to continue to tackle diabetes and other consequences associated with obesity,” she says. “Once we can solve the issue of obesity, we'll see strides in all of the related conditions.”

Are We Closer to Ending the Obesity Epidemic?

Curbing obesity rates remains one of our biggest challenges, agrees Scott Kahan, MD. He is an obesity expert at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

Although HealthyPeople 2010 did not make tremendous strides toward lowering these rates, there is a silver lining in the new numbers, he says.

“When you look at the raw numbers, we didn’t come close to meeting most of the goals for child or adult obesity over the past decade, but beneath the numbers, there is a lot to be hopeful about,” Kahan says.

During the previous decade, obesity became part of the national dialogue. “A decade ago, we weren’t talking about this,” he says.

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