The United States may be losing ground when it comes to the years of life residents can expect to live free from chronic disease.
Officials at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have assessed U.S. residents' health in the Healthy People 2010 final review, a report on progress at meeting the health improvement goals set forth in November 2000 in a Healthy People 2010 document.
The main goals of the Healthy People program were to increase quality and years of healthy life and to eliminate health disparities.
The country is following up with the Healthy People 2010 project with a Healthy People 2020 project.
Since the Healthy People 2010 project began, life expectancy has increased both at birth and at age 65, HHS officials found.
Life expectancy at birth for the total population increased to 77.8 years in 2006-2007, from 76.8 years in 2000-2001, and death rates also declined for causes included in Healthy People 2010 program objectives.
Mortality from conditions such as female breast cancer, colorectal cancer, coronary heart disease and stroke fall, officials say.
Expected years of life in good or better health increased to 69 years, from 68.5 years.
Expected years free from activity limitations increased to 66.2 years, from 61.5 years.
But expected years of life free from chronic conditions fell to 43.1 years, from 43.7 years.
Similarly, for people who are 65 years old, the total expected years of additional life increased to 18.6 years in 2006-2007, from 17.7 years in 2000-2001.
Expected years of life in good or better health increased to 13.7 years, from 12.9 years, and expected years of life free from activity limitations increased to 11.8 years, from 11.1 years.
But expected years of life free from chronic conditions fell slightly, to 2.7 years, from 2.8 years.
The higher percentage of people with chronic diseases could be a result of improvements in medical care, but, if it reflects a real increase in chronic condition rates, it could be a sign that improvements in mortality and freedom-from-limitation rates could deteriorate.
HHS officials also found some other disappointing results in areas related to disability and the need for long term care (LTC).
The Healthy People 2010 program managers had hoped to increase the percentage of working-age people with disabilities in the work force to 80%, from 43% in 1997. Instead, the percentage fell to 37% in 2008. That's the latest year of data included in the new report, and that employment rate was recorded before the recession swept in.
The most disappointing LTC results in the program report have to do with lack of data: Officials stopped collecting home health care, nursing home care and adult daycare access data during the middle of the study, officials said.
One indicator of LTC quality -the number of pressure ulcer diagnoses per 1,000 patients - rose to 20 in 2004, from 16 in 1997, before HHS stopped collecting pressure ulcer data for the report.