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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

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Brenda Goodman

HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, July 10 (HealthDay News) -- Life expectancy has increased in the United States over the last two decades, but Americans are also spending more of their lives in poor health, a sweeping new study finds.

And despite being the biggest spender on health care in the world, the United States lags behind many other prosperous countries in the leading causes of premature death, including heart disease, violence, traffic accidents and diabetes.

The main culprit behind the U.S. health problems appears to be eating habits, which are too low in fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, and too high in sodium, processed meats and trans fatty acids, according to the report.

The new study is the latest in a series of reports by the Global Burden of Disease Study, a collaboration of 488 researchers in 50 countries. The group is sifting through staggering amounts of information to learn how different countries compare when it comes to life expectancy and overall health.

The project is taking stock of early deaths and disability caused by 291 diseases and injuries around the world. It is also taking a country-by-country look at which risk factors make the biggest contributions to health problems. Reports on China and Great Britain were published earlier this year.

The findings on the United States were published online July 10 in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The White House and National Press Club also hosted separate events on Wednesday to announce the study findings.

"It's rare these days that you get information or studies that give you the big picture," said study author Dr. Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, in Seattle.

"It's pretty uncommon to step back and say, 'What does all the evidence tell us about the most important health problems, and where does the U.S. fit in that landscape?'" he said.

Murray said the United States has seen a shift in the last 20 years from illnesses that cut life short to chronic conditions that lead to longer-term disability. That means Americans are living longer on average, but they aren't necessarily spending those years in good health.

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