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Press Release

For Immediate Release: December 17, 1999
Contact: CDC Media Relations (404) 639-3286

New Findings on Health, Quality of Life of U.S. Seniors Released

Surveillance for Selected Public Health Indicators Affecting Older Adults-United States (MMWR Vol. 48/No. SS-8/December 17, 1999)

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

For example, 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 (26.4% of 55- to 64-year-olds, 30.4% of those aged 65-74 years, and 33.6% of those 75 and older), more than 60% of seniors still aren't meeting that goal. And although the percentage of older Americans who smoke declined with age during 1995-1997 (21.2% of Americans 55-64 years, 13.3% of those aged 65-74, and 6.8% among those older than 75), the decrease is attributed not only to some people stopping smoking but to the deaths of older people who smoke.

The data are from several national surveys, including the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), the CDC's state-based, monthly telephone survey of noninstitutionalized U.S. adults; the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), CDC's annual household survey of a probability sample of the civilian, noninstitutionalized population; the National Hospital Discharge Survey, an annual probability sample of discharges from nonfederal, short-stay hospitals; and the Medicare Current Beneficiary Survey, a continuous survey of noninstitutionalized and institutionalized Medicare beneficiaries, including disabled persons. 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.

"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."

The complete report will be available after 4 p.m. EST, December 16, 1999, online at


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