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Americans are Fatter and More Depressed, But are Choosing Better Health Behaviors

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media, June 25, 2009

Americans are growing older, fatter, and more depressed, but we’re also choosing good health behaviors, such as eating fruits and vegetables, getting flu shots and cancer screenings, and wearing seatbelts, according to a new national health report card.

The bi-annual 2009 PRC National Health Report - 1995-2008 Detailed Findings surveyed 1,000 American adults from across the nation on health issues based on the CDC’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, and other public health surveys.

As expected, the clearest and most alarming trend is the growing number of Americans who are overweight or obese. Currently, 67.4% of adults nationwide are overweight (with a body mass index of 25 or higher). In 1995, it was 50%. The prevalence of obese Americans (29% of Americans have a BMI value of 30 or higher) has nearly doubled since it was first measured in 1995 (14.7%). At-risk groups include lower-income adults, African-Americans, and adults aged 40 to 64.

A big contributor to the obesity crisis is sedentary lifestyles. In 2008, nearly 29% of Americans reported no leisure-time physical activities in the month before the interview, the highest proportion recorded since this survey question was first asked in 1995.

The study also found that the percentage of Americans who are limited in activities because of a physical, mental, or emotional problem has increased from 14.5% in 2001 to 21.8% in 2008. Limitations are most often attributed to musculoskeletal issues.

More than 24% of Americans currently suffer from arthritis or rheumatism (more than 50% among seniors aged 65 and older). More than 22% suffer from sciatica or chronic back pain, something that has trended upward considerably over the past several years (14.3% in 1995). Nearly 8% require the use of special equipment, such as a wheelchair, cane, special bed, or special telephone (including 26% of those reporting an activity limitation).

While age is a key factor, the report also noted that more than 44% of Americans living below the federal poverty level have health-related activity limitations.

The report also found that Americans are facing higher barriers to accessing healthcare services. In 2008, 42.4% of all adults reported difficulty or delay in receiving healthcare, up from the 36% five years earlier. Groups most adversely impacted included the poor, African-Americans, Hispanics, young adults, and women.

The biggest barriers were:

  • The cost of prescriptions
  • The cost of doctor visits
  • Difficulty getting appointments
  • Inconvenient office hours

All of these are growing trends. For example, nearly 20% of adults say they went without a needed prescription within the last year because they couldn’t afford it, more than twice the percentage (9.5%) first reported in 1999.

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