Reports From the Field: Americans’ health improving, according to HHS report

Americans are living longer, fewer babies are dying in infancy, and the gap in life expectancy between white and black Americans has narrowed in the past decade, according to a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) report on American health over the past 50 years.

"As we take better care of ourselves and medical treatments continue to improve, the illnesses and behaviors that once cost us the lives of our grandparents will become even less threatening to the lives of our grandchildren," says HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson.

By the year 2000, infant mortality had dropped to a record low and life expectancy hit a record high, according to Health, United States 2002, a statistical report on the nation’s health prepared by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The report noted that Americans spent $1.3 trillion on health care in 2000, a figure equal to 13.2% of the gross domestic product. A third was spent on hospital care, one-fifth on physicians, and almost 10% on prescription drugs.

Federal and state programs, principally Medicare and Medicaid, paid 43% of all medical bills. Private insurance covered 25%, and other private sources paid 5%. Consumers paid 17% of their health care costs.

Among other key findings of the report:

  • Death rates among children and adults were cut in half during the past 50 years. Deaths among those 65 and older dropped by a third.
  • In 2000, Americans’ life expectancy was almost 77 years — 74 for men and almost 80 for women. A century earlier, life expectancy was 48 for men and 51 for women.
  • Men and women who reach age 65 live on average to age 81 and 84, respectively.
  • More than 40% of adults were smokers in 1965, compared to 23% in 2000. Those without a high-school education were three times as likely to smoke as college graduates.
  • Infectious disease rates have declined. For instance, the syphilis rate in 2000 was the lowest since national reporting began in 1941.
  • Three in five adults ages 20-74 are overweight, with one in four considered to be obese. Almost 40% of Americans engage in no physical activity during leisure time.
  • Hospital stays averaged 4.9 days in 2000. Twenty years ago, patients spent an average of more than seven days in the hospital.

The report is available on the CDC web site: www.cdc.gov/nchs.