Annual Report on Nation’s Health Spotlights Elderly Americans

For Release: Wednesday, October 13, 1999

Contact: NCHS Press Office (301) 436-7551


Health, United States, 1999 with Health and Aging Chartbook. 412 pp. (PHS) 99-1232. [PDF – 2.3 MB]

HHS Secretary Donna E. Shalala today released a new report showing that a growing and increasingly diverse elderly population in the U.S. is living longer but still faces health challenges as the next century approaches.

Health, United States, 1999, the annual “report card” on the Nation’s health produced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), features a special chartbook this year on the aging population in the U.S.

“With the arrival of the new millennium comes the reality that in the next 30 years, one out of five people in this country will be over the age of 65,” Secretary Shalala said. “In planning for the nation’s health care in the next century, we cannot ignore this group. That is why it is important now more than ever that we modernize Medicare’s benefits and strengthen its finances for years to come.”

“Many older people are in good health and leading active lives in the community. However, a significant number of persons over age 85 still have chronic illnesses and disabilities that limit their ability to fully participate in everyday activities,” said CDC Director Jeffrey Koplan. “As life spans increase we must help all of our citizens prepare for a healthy old age. People of all ages should be tobacco-free, eat right, and keep physically active so their golden years will be healthy years.”

Life expectancy for older Americans has increased over the past 50 years. Based on current mortality rates, a 65-year-old person in 1997 could on average expect to live to be nearly 83 years old; an 85-year-old in 1997 could expect to live to be over 90.

“The increase in life expectancy is one of the great achievements of the 20th century,” says Richard M. Suzman, Ph.D., associate director for behavioral and social research at the National Institute on Aging (NIA), part of the National Institutes of Health. “In the next century, as research increases our understanding of health and aging, we can look forward to spending more of the added years in better health.”

Contributing to longer life expectancy is the significant and long-term decline in mortality, especially from heart disease. Death rates from heart disease among persons 65-84 have been reduced by about half since 1970; among those aged 85 and over, death rates from heart disease have dropped 21 percent over the same time period.

Examining the quality of those added years of life, the report shows that most older persons are not severely limited in their daily activities despite living with chronic conditions. A majority of noninstitutionalized persons 70 years of age and over reported they suffered from arthritis, and approximately one-third reported they had hypertension. Diabetes was reported by 11 percent.

Overall, less than 10 percent of noninstitutionalized persons 70 years of age and over were unable to perform one or more activities of daily living (e.g., bathing, dressing, using the toilet) in 1995. However, this disability increased with age from close to 5 percent among persons 70-74 years of age to nearly 22 percent among persons 85 years of age and over.

Other findings on the health status of the elderly:

  • In 1995, 39 percent of noninstitutionalized persons 70 years of age and over used assistive devices such as hearing aids, diabetic and respiratory equipment, and canes and walkers during the previous 12 months.
  • Seven out of 10 nondisabled persons 65 years of age and over participated in some form of exercise at least once in a recent 2-week period, such as walking, gardening, and stretching. Still, only about one-third of persons who exercised achieved recommended levels.
  • Almost all elderly persons have Medicare coverage. However, non-Hispanic black and Hispanic elderly persons were less likely than non-Hispanic white persons to have private insurance to supplement their Medicare coverage.
  • Approximately 12 percent of Medicare enrollees 65 years of age and over were in managed care plans in 1997. For the U.S. population as a whole, HMO enrollment increased to 29 percent in 1998.

Health, United States, 1999, features more than a hundred tables showing trends in health status, health risk factors, use of health care and a variety of other health topics for the entire U.S. population collected from several Federal and non-Federal sources. The NIA provided support for the chart book on aging. The report can be downloaded from the National Center for Health Statistics’ Home Page. NCHS is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HHS.

For more information, please contact NCHS, Office of Public Affairs (301) 458-4800, or via e-mail at .

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