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Despite persistently high prevalence rates for many chronic diseases, Americans are dying at a lower rate than ever before, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The findings suggest that individuals may be living longer following unhealthy cholesterol test, insulin test or cancer test results.
The latest number from the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics show that average life expectancy in the U.S. increased by two-tenths of a percent between 2008 and 2009. This marks the 10th straight year that average life expectancy grew in the country.
The report, titled Deaths: Preliminary Data from 2009, shows that average life expectancy for men went up two-tenths of a percent to 75.7 years, while women lived one-tenth of a percent longer at 80.6 years. There was no increase in life expectancy for African Americans.
The numbers may seem somewhat contradictory when broken down by specific diseases. Heart disease remains the leading cause of death, yet the number of people who died from the condition declined by 3.7 percent. Likewise, cancer deaths dropped by 1.1 percent despite persistently high rates of disease.
Furthermore, diabetes deaths dropped by 4.1 percent, stroke by 4.2 percent, influenza and pneumonia by 4.7 percent and chronic lower respiratory disease by 4.1 percent.
Despite the reduction in deaths, particularly among the causes mentioned, more people in the U.S. developed these conditions than ever before. The obesity epidemic is causing dramatic rises in a number of chronic conditions that have traditionally been killers, including heart disease, diabetes and several types of cancer. Additionally, non-obesity-related diseases are rising.
The American Heart Association, citing recent growing trends in the number of people who have heart disease or high cholesterol, issued a report predicting that the prevalence of the disease will soon surpass 40 percent in the U.S. Currently more than 81 million people have the condition and it accounted for 831,272 deaths in 2006. While the prevalence is trending up, deaths are declining.
There is a similar story with diabetes. This disease was once extremely difficult to control and most of the efforts to deal with the condition focused on prevention. However, medical breakthroughs in the past couple of decades have made it easier to live with the disease.
The CDC recently updated its diabetes prevalence report, which indicated that it is growing at an alarming rate. The Agency estimates that 26 million Americans now have the disease, which is an increase of nearly 3 million from 2008. Additionally, the number of people who are living with prediabetes increased dramatically. Diabetes affects over 8 percent of the population.
"These distressing numbers show how important it is to prevent type 2 diabetes and to help those who have diabetes manage the disease to prevent serious complications such as kidney failure and blindness," said Ann Albright, director of the CDC's Division of Diabetes Translation. "We know that a structured lifestyle program that includes losing weight and increasing physical activity can prevent or delay type 2 diabetes."
The numbers, therefore, suggests a somewhat paradoxical relationship between disease and death. While more people are becoming ill with certain diseases, fewer are dying from them. This may mean that more people are living for longer with a serious disease.
While the medical community has undoubtedly made major strides in helping individuals live with chronic diseases, further progress that is focused on preventing individuals from becoming ill in the first place could help improve the years that they gain.
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