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December 14, 1999

CDC Says Older Americans Could Do More to Improve Health and Quality of Life

Atlanta, GA (SafetyAlerts) - A report released today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that older Americans could do more to improve their health and quality of life as they age.

The CDC looked at several indicators of the health of older Americans, including illness and death, health risk behaviors, use of preventive services, medical expenditures, and injuries and violence,

The data are from several national surveys, including the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), the National Hospital Discharge Survey, and the Medicare Current Beneficiary Survey.  Also included are data from the Vital Statistics Cooperative Program, which compiles and submits to CDC all death certificates filed in the United States.

"Disease and disability need not be inevitable consequences of aging," said CDC Director Jeffrey P. Koplan, MD, MPH. "Simple changes in lifestyle—more physical activity, a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables and whole grains, and using preventive services like mammograms, colorectal cancer screening, and vaccinations—can contribute to more years of health and better quality of life."

But the findings showed that many seniors are not physically active and are not using services that would prevent or detect early the chronic diseases that people are likely to develop as they grow older.

  • About a third of the 55- to 74-year-olds were physically inactive; 46.0% of those older than 74 reported no physical activity.
  • Use of preventive health services such as vaccinations by persons older than 65 varied widely among states and were higher for influenza vaccine (range: 54%-74%) than for pneumococcal vaccine (range: 32%-59%). The national objective for the year 2000 is to increase both levels to 60% in the 65 or older age group.
  • Use of breast cancer screening among women decreased with age (77% among those aged 55-64 years, 75% among those aged 65-74 years, 61% among those 75 years and older), although women's risk of breast cancer increases as they age;
  • Less than a third of people 55 and older had received a simple screening test for colorectal cancer. As a result their lives may be shortened or they may be living their last years with poor quality of life.
  • While the percentages of older people in all 50 states and the District of Columbia who reported eating five or more fruits and vegetables a day increased during 1994 and 1996 more than 60% of seniors still aren't meeting that goal.
  • In addition, the increase in the number of older Americans who have stopped smoking as they age is attributed to the deaths of older people who smoke as well as to some who have kicked the habit.

"The release of this report, on the eve of the new millennium, focuses attention on where we are, as well as where we as a society need to go," said James S. Marks, MD, MPH, director of CDC's National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. "A nationwide effort is needed to both promote healthy behaviors among the elderly and to make them aware of the value and availability of preventive health services."

The findings are being released at a time when Americans are living longer and the proportion of older adults in the population is increasing rapidly as the Baby Boomers age. CDC and its partners hope that state and other health planners will use these data to plan interventions for seniors to help them remain independent and maintain quality of life as they age.

One CDC partner, the Administration on Aging, is working with CDC to ensure that older Americans know where to go in the community to get benefits and services to help them maintain independence.

"The Administration on Aging endorses the CDC's efforts to monitor the health and quality of life of older Americans,"said Jeanette C. Takamura, PhD, Assistant Secretary for Aging, Administration on Aging. "We are dedicated to seeing that America is ready to meet the challenges and use the opportunities presented by the longevity of its people."

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