HHS Issues Report Showing Dramatic Improvements in America's Health Over Past 50 Years

Infant Mortality at Record Low, Life Expectancy at Record High

For Release: Thursday, September 12, 2002

Contact: NCHS Press Office, (301) 458-4800

E-mail: paoquery@cdc.gov

Health, United States, 2002 With Chartbook on Trends in the Health of Americans. 430 pp. (PHS) 2002-1232. pdf icon[PDF – 6.9 MB]

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Health, United States – Homepage

HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson today issued a new report showing how Americans’ health has changed dramatically for the better over the past 50 years, with men and women living longer, fewer babies dying in infancy, and the gap between white and black life expectancy narrowing in the past decade.

“When you take the long view, you see clearly how far we’ve come in combating diseases, making workplaces safer and avoiding risks such as smoking,” Secretary Thompson said. “As we take better care of ourselves and medical treatments continue to improve, the illnesses and behaviors that once cost us the lives of our grandparents will become even less threatening to the lives of our grandchildren.”

By 2000 infant mortality had dropped to a record low and life expectancy hit a record high, according to Health, United States, 2002, the 26th annual statistical report on the Nation’s health prepared by HHS’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

This 430-page report takes an extended look at trends in fighting illness, chronic diseases, and mortality going back to 1950. The report presents the latest findings from health surveys and other sources in 147 tables and 28 graphs and charts. The publication examines where Americans get their health care and how much it costs. It also describes disparities in health care access and outcomes, by race, ethnicity, and income.

The country has gained significant ground in fighting heart disease, stroke, and injuries. AIDS emerged as a major killer in the 1980s, but deaths dropped after 1995 due to powerful new anti-viral drugs. However, new AIDS cases are still being reported – about 40,000 cases in 2000.

Among the key findings of the report:

  • During the past half century, death rates among children and adults up to age 24 were cut in half. Mortality among adults 25-64 years fell nearly as much, and dropped among those 65 years and over by a third.
  • In 2000 Americans enjoyed the longest life expectancy in U.S. history – almost 77 years, based on preliminary figures. The life expectancy of men was 74 years and for women almost 80 years. A century earlier, life expectancy was 48 years for men and 51 years for women.
  • The infant mortality rate – deaths before the first birthday – has plummeted 75 percent since 1950. It dropped to a record low of 6.9 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2000, down from 7.1 the year before.
  • Men and women who reach age 65 now live, on average, to ages 81 and 84, respectively.
  • The gap in life expectancy between black and white persons narrowed during the 1990s. The life expectancy of white babies was about 6 years longer than for black babies in 2000, an improvement from the 7-year gap in 1990.
  • Homicide rates among young black and Hispanic males aged 15-24 dropped almost 50 percent in the 1990s. Homicide remains the leading cause of death for young black men and the second leading cause of death for young Hispanic men.
  • More than 40 percent of adults were smokers in 1965, compared with 23 percent in 2000. Those without a high school education were still almost three times as likely to smoke cigarettes as college graduates.
  • Infectious disease rates have declined. The syphilis rate in 2000 – 2.2 cases per 100,000 people – was the lowest since national reporting began in 1941.

“Effective public health efforts, greater knowledge among Americans about healthier lifestyles and improved health care all have contributed to these steady gains in the nation’s health,” CDC Director Julie L. Gerberding, M.D. said.

Deaths among children and young adults from unintentional injuries, cancer, and heart disease are down sharply. Among working-age adults, fewer are dying from unintentional injuries, heart disease, and stroke. For older Americans, the increase in life expectancy is largely due to the sharp drop in deaths from heart disease and stroke.

This report also noted that three in five adults ages 20-74 are overweight. One in four Americans is considered obese. Almost 40 percent engaged in no physical activity during leisure time, and women were more sedentary than men. One in 10 Americans age 45-54, 1 in 5 of those 55-64 years, 1 in 4 of those 65-74 years, and 1 in 3 of those 75 years and over reported being in fair or poor health.

The report also noted that Americans spent $1.3 trillion on health care in 2000, or 13.2 percent of the gross domestic product, far more than any other nation. A third of the health care dollar was spent on hospital care, about one-fifth on physicians, and almost one-tenth on prescription drugs. The cost of prescription drugs increased 15 percent a year from 1995-2000 – faster than any other category of spending.

Hospital stays keep getting shorter: just 4.9 days on average in 2000. Twenty years ago patients spent more than 7 days in the hospital. Sixty-three percent of all surgeries now are performed as outpatient procedures, with patients being sent home after a short stay in a recovery room. A decade earlier, one-half of all surgeries were on outpatients. In 1980 only 16 percent were done on outpatients.

Federal and State government programs – principally Medicare and Medicaid – paid 43 percent of all medical bills. Private insurance covered 35 percent, and other private sources paid 5 percent. Consumers paid 17 percent out of their own pockets.

“The power of Health, United States, 2002, is that it shows what we’re doing right, and where we still need to make improvements,” said Dr. Edward J. Sondik, director of CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, which prepared the report.

More information, including an electronic version of the report that may be downloaded, is available on the NCHS Website.


Page last reviewed: October 6, 2006