Amid the worry about Ebola, there’s good news about the far more common threats to Americans’ health: heart disease, cancer and stroke. They are taking less of a toll, and as a result Americans are living longer than ever.
According to a new study on mortality from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics, life expectancy in the United States for a child born in 2012 is at a record high – 78.8 years. That’s up from 2011 when it was 78.7 years. On average, females born in 2012 are projected to live longer than males, 81.2 years compared with 76.4 years, but both sexes are benefiting from progress against the most common killers.
People who are 65 or older – and thus have avoided the hazards of illnesses and accidents that cause early death – have a life expectancy of about 85, the study notes.
“I think the health of the U.S. population is improving,” Jiaquan Xu, a medical doctor and lead author of the report, told USA Today. “The death rates for heart disease and cancer, the two leading causes of death that account for 46.5 percent of all deaths, have been falling since 1999.”
The improvement in the nation’s health is so incremental it often goes unappreciated. But looking back, the advance has been remarkable. When a person was born in 1930, life expectancy was 59.7 years.
Through the brilliance of scientists and doctors, the support of taxpayers and benefactors for research on disease and diet, the laws that increased the safety of cars and products and cleaned up the air and water and the countless personal successes in quitting smoking, eating better and exercising more, Americans have expanded their life expectancy by nearly two decades since 1930.
That’s a triumph worth pausing to consider at a time when government doesn’t seem to work, politics are polarized and the economy seems stuck. Through our individual and collective efforts, we’re getting better, and a lifetime is getting longer.