Americans Living Better, Longer But Couch Potatoes Not Budging; Teenagers Still Living Risky


Five years into a decade-long national health campaign, adult Americans are smoking less, having fewer drunken-driving accidents, exercising more regularly and eating less fatty foods, a new survey has found.

But more of the population is overweight and there’s been no decline in the percentage of hard-core couch potatoes. Among the young, there has been a troubling rise in teen pregnancy and homicide, as well as hints that use of alcohol and drugs may again be on the upswing, the survey said.

And while the average life expectancy for Americans has risen to a record 75.8 years, the average span of “healthy life” without chronic illness may have declined slightly in the past several years, according to the assessment published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The healthy life span is estimated to be about 64 years.

“We have good news, but not good enough,” Dr. J. Michael McGinnis, who wrote the mid-decade assessment with Dr. Philip R. Lee. Both are senior officials at the U.S. Public Health Service, which compiled the statistics.

The poor and ethnic minorities continue to lag on access to health insurance and preventive health services, McGinnis said, and that is reflected in persistently higher death rates among blacks for coronary heart disease, stroke and cancer.

While too many people still lack access to health care and preventive services, he said, it is clear that changes in personal behavior such as quitting smoking and exercising more can improve health.

“People have a remarkable ability to affect their own health destinies,” McGinnis said.

But health authorities must do a much better job of bringing this information to people in low-income and minority communities, he said.

The health campaign was launched in 1990 with three broad goals: increase the span of healthy life for Americans; reduce health disparities among different populations; and provide access to disease-prevention services - such as immunizations - for all Americans. The campaign is being waged by state, local and private organizations as well as the federal government. It includes 300 measurable objectives - such as reduced infant mortality, better immunization rates, lower cholesterol levels - to be accomplished by the year 2000.


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