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50+: Live Better, Longer

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U.S. Lagging Other Countries on Many Health Measures

Report finds some gains, but also many areas where Americans' health is slipping


"Australia has done a better job of bringing down smoking. They have road traffic injury rates that are quite a bit lower than ours. They've done a lot more public health intervention," Murray explained.

And Australia has a much bigger emphasis on primary care. They do a better job of helping people control chronic risk factors such as high blood pressure, he added.

So what can Americans do if they want to spend more of their lives in good health?

The study found the biggest hurdles are related to lifestyle. Poor nutrition and diet were the major contributors to both early death and disability. Tobacco smoking was second on the list of major risk factors, followed by high blood pressure, being overweight or obese, and being physically inactive.

"If we want to be healthier, we have to change the way many of us live," Fineberg said. "Twenty percent of adults in the U.S. still smoke cigarettes. A growing number of adults in some states are overweight or obese.

"We need to get more exercise on average than we do, and we need to stop doing foolish things like driving after we've been drinking alcohol or drinking to excess," he said. "Those are sort of simple to say, but they're really hard to put into everyday practice and to stay with it," he pointed out.

Fineberg said he'd like to see more money spent on helping people make those difficult changes, and far less money spent on expensive but questionable tests and treatments.

"We spend, on average, twice as much as the rest of the countries," he said. "Approximately 30 percent of all health expenditures in the United States, which would amount to $750 billion a year, don't actually contribute to better health," said Fineberg, citing a 2012 Institute of Medicine report.

"We have a big job ahead of us to create a health care system that really adds value and doesn't just cost and waste a lot of money," he added.

Cardiologist Dr. Robert Rosenson, director of cardiometabolic disorders at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City, said, "It's quite disappointing that the U.S. is falling behind in outcomes for diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, and especially those diseases with preventable causes.

"We need to make a major effort to make better lifestyle choices daily based on diet," Rosenson continued. "Efforts by communities across our country need to take charge of what we are providing our children to eat at home and at school. The costs due to poor eating and disabling health conditions are overtaxing our society. We can't afford it. Eating more fruits and vegetables is very important, while limiting your calorie intake and not adding salt to your food."

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