The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington recently conducted a study of health outcomes in the United States, focusing on changes between 1990 and 2010 and comparing results to other developed countries. The Institute found that while life expectancy increased, rates of chronic, potentially disabling conditions, such as obesity, hypertension, and mental health disorders also rose.
Over the 30-year period, life expectancy increased three years (from 75.2 to 78.2). Healthy life expectancy (“the number of years that a person at a given age can expect to live in good health, taking into account mortality and disability”) also increased 2.3 years (from 65.8 years to 68.1). While these results may sound like progress, the improvements made in the US were dwarfed by the gains in other countries. Compared to 33 other developed nations, the ranking of life expectancy in the US moved from 20th to 27th, while the healthy life expectancy ranking sunk from 14th to 26th. Given the relatively high per capita health costs in the US, this finding is troubling. Other countries achieve superior outcomes while spending less.
The authors conclude that life expectancy has increased, but health has not necessarily improved. Years spent living with a disability increased, as a result of common chronic health conditions and behaviors, including inadequate diet, tobacco use, overweight and obesity, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, physical inactivity, and alcohol use. Additionally, state and county-level analysis revealed geographic, socioeconomic, and racial disparities in health outcomes.
It is possible that the Affordable Care Act could improve these issues over time. Healthcare may become more available and accessible as the uninsured find coverage, with could result in the prevention of some chronic health conditions.
To read the study in full, see http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1710486.