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Why a longer lifespan doesn’t necessarily mean better health

The fact that the average life expectancy of the American people has increased to 78.5 years in 2009 from 77.8 years in 2000 sounds like a good thing. However, according to United Health Foundation’s America’s Health Rankings 2012 survey, which is now in its 23rd year, just because people are living longer doesn’t mean that they are any healthier – in fact, modern medicine is keeping people alive for longer when suffering from conditions that would have meant an early death not very long ago.

Using data from a number of different sources, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Census Bureau, 24 different metrics were used to calculate the health of the American people and include smoking, drinking, violent crime, heart and cancer rates and an inability to afford health insurance. At first glance, the news appears to be good. Premature deaths have fallen by 18 percent since 1990 and even deaths from cancer and cardiovascular disease have fallen.

However, along with the reduction in deaths comes an increasing amount of behaviours that are risky to health. USA Today explains that these behaviours include obesity, sedentary behaviour, diabetes and high blood pressure, all of which are avoidable if only the individual in question eats properly and exercises more frequently. Sadly, rather than do that, many people turn to medication in order to mask the conditions rather than tackle them at the root. This results in over 27 percent of American people falling into the obese category and around 30 percent having high blood pressure.

As can be expected, some parts of the country face more serious issues than others. When the states are ranked in order of their health ranking, Louisiana and Mississippi jointly trail last in 49th place, with high rates of tobacco consumption, obesity and sedentary behaviour. At the other end of the scale, in first and second place, come Vermont and Hawaii. This is the sixth year in a row that Vermont has topped the rankings, making it clear that the New England state has a thing or two to teach other parts of the country. In fact, New England in general appears to be a healthy place to live compared to some of the southern states; as well as Vermont in first place, New Hampshire and Massachusetts are third and fourth, Connecticut is sixth, and Maine and Rhode Island are ninth and tenth.

Government officials in some of the lower ranking states can only hope that the ranking will shock some people into realising that there is a real problem; one that needs to be tackled as soon as possible. At the end of the day, it is down to the individual to decide whether or not to tackle potential health issues, but local governments can at least try and help put people on the right track by introducing more health initiatives. Otherwise, increased longevity along with more health issues will mean a massive burden on the health care system.

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