Americans Are Now Fatter and Dying Younger
A recent report (Thursday, December 9, 2010) published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed what many of us in the preventive medicine circles have feared: Americans are now dying at a younger age.
This is the third report in the last few years that indicates life expectancy in the United States is no longer increasing and, in fact, is decreasing.
Sadly, this generation of children may be the first to die before their parents.
The reality, according to the nonprofit, nonpartisan Child Trends DataBank, is this: “[C]hildren in the United States have a shorter life expectancy than those in at least 20 other countries with populations of one million or more.”
And while we seem to have made inroads in some areas of longevity, chronic conditions such as cancer and cardiovascular diseases remain rather unscathed at the top of the list of overall killers, with a combined contribution that accounts for half of all deaths in the U.S.
Fatter by the Minute
But it is most likely not these diseases that are leading to Americans’ earlier demise. No, this dip in life expectancy appears to be related to one colossal concern. And it’s one that unfortunately has been overlooked — or at best been given flippant lip-service — in the delivery of health care here in America. What’s worse, it’s easily treatable and highly preventable. What is it?
Americans, and our children in particular, are getting fatter by the minute.
In 1985, the CDC reported that roughly 15% of the population in some states was obese. By 2000, that figure had grown to a staggering 24%. And, by 2009, it had become greater than 30% in some areas (http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/trends.html).
This trend in obesity parallels the rapid growth in diabetes — in particular, Type 2 diabetes in children — the treatment of which is conspicuously consuming over 500 billion dollars annually.
Preventable Risk Factors
In 2002, the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) published a fantastic study that outlined a “constellation of risk factors,” including obesity, high blood sugar and cholesterol levels and hypertension that collectively increase one’s likelihood of death by enormous proportions.
Now referred to as “metabolic syndrome,” this group of risk factors is becoming increasingly common in the United States. The researchers identified obesity and diabetes as two prevalent, preventable factors that have led to our bulging belt lines and resultant health issues.
The NHLBI study suggested that the best initial treatment for these risk factors is not drug therapy, but, instead, therapeutic lifestyle changes (TLC). These include dietary changes, exercise prescriptions, and smoking cessation. In fact, the authors of the study say that the majority of persons with metabolic syndrome can be successfully treated within twelve weeks of care and without medications.
So why is metabolic syndrome still a problem? It’s hard to get patients to be compliant to TLCs.
In fact, the authors concluded, “[I]nterventions to improve adherence must be sustained and reinforced. [I]nterventions to improve adherence last only as long as they are provided. [And,] if the intervention is discontinued, even if the patient is fully adherent at the time, adherence will deteriorate.”
In other words, patients don’t seem to be able to make lasting lifestyle changes on their own.
RX for the Doctor
The study authors’ advice to your doctor, then? To increase the length of visits to help patients reach their goals.
Sounds simple enough. After all, doctors — at least most of them — want nothing more than to see their patients live long, happy, fulfilling, disease-free lives.
The problem is, there is just no way for most physicians to spend enough time with any particular patient to make meaningful changes in lifestyle and generate enough revenue to keep open a clinic, with its massively increasing expenses. (Just ask them how much their malpractice insurance costs, not to mention their $200,000 student loans.)
And, by the way, if a physician tries to give you extra time, the insurance company won’t pay for it. Neither will they pay for nutritional medicine visits to teach you about those TLCs.
Obviously, the best treatment is prevention, but for us to help this generation of children to grow older, healthfully, we need to live by example. We need systems in place that allow doctors to intervene, as they — not the insurance companies — see fit, and to spend the time needed to help patients make the lifestyle changes they need to make, for their own health and for the health of future generations.
We can grow old gracefully free of fat, infirmity, and fatigue.
We can set good examples for this generation of children.
The first step is just a little personal TLC.
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