PLoS ... or Minus

  • by: |
  • 04/27/2008
Important, fascinating, discouraging, and urgent new government-sponsored study (courtesy of Harvard) shows that life expectancy actually declined in a substantial number of US counties from 1983 to 1999, particularly for women. Most of the counties with declines are in the Deep South, along the Mississippi River, and in Appalachia, as well as in the southern Plains and Texas.

The study, published in the journal PLoS Medicine, concluded that the progress made in reducing deaths from cardiovascular disease, thanks to new drugs, procedures and prevention, began to level off in those years. Those gains, as they shrank, were outpaced by rising mortality from lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and diabetes. Smoking, which peaked for women later than for men, is thought to be a major contributor, along with obesity and hypertension.

Some, like former Senator John Edwards, are using the study to further fan the class warfare flames.  And socio-economic conditions are certainly an important part of this issue but, as Sam B. Harper, an epidemiologist at McGill University who has studied the issue commented, “We know from hundreds of studies that income does have an impact on health, but it’s not a simple relationship."

Indeed.  But politicians -- and especially frustrated ones like Senator Edwards, are always looking for simplistic, talking point-friendly answers to complicated problems.

According to  one of the report's authors, Dr. Majid Ezzati, "... life expectancy disparities would have to be addressed through public health strategies directed at reducing the risk factors that cause chronic disease and injuries."

And that means a more deliberate effort at patient-based care -- focusing on earlier diagnosis (and better diagnostics) and more targeted health care (right treatment for the right patient at the right time).  What it does not mean is a knee-jerk move towards "European" style healthcare and the ensuing cost-based rationing that inevitably comes with it.

For more detail on the study, click here:

We mustn't allow the next generation of Americans to be the first in our nation's history to enjoy a shorter life than their parents.  And to achieve that goal we must abandon the rhetoric of  divisiveness and work together (government, academia, and industry) towards this common purpose.

Center for Medicine in the Public Interest is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization promoting innovative solutions that advance medical progress, reduce health disparities, extend life and make health care more affordable, preventive and patient-centered. CMPI also provides the public, policymakers and the media a reliable source of independent scientific analysis on issues ranging from personalized medicine, food and drug safety, health care reform and comparative effectiveness.

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