The Year in Review 2012: Obesity rates decline, but U.S. health falters

By ALEX CUKAN, United Press International  |  Dec. 28, 2012 at 4:30 AM
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After decades of increasing U.S. child obesity rates, 2012 might be the watershed year when this trend started to reverse -- several cities and even the state of Mississippi, which for many years ranked the fattest state in the nation -- showed declines in child and teen obesity.

The study by the Robert Wood Foundation found declines in childhood obesity rates in Philadelphia, New York City, Mississippi and California.

In the last decade, Philadelphia and New York City implemented strong nutrition standards to improve food and beverages available in schools. They also initiated citywide efforts to improve healthy food and exercise opportunities.

Mississippi and California led efforts among states to reduce obesity rates. In 2006, the Mississippi State Board of Education set nutritional standards for food and beverages sold in school vending machines and the state legislature required the public schools to provide more physical activity time, offer healthier foods and beverages and develop health education programs.

In 2007, California set strong nutrition standards for school snacks, and in 2009 it prohibited sugar-sweetened beverages in high schools. In 2008, California passed two laws, one requiring walking and bicycling as part of transportation plans and another requiring large chain restaurants to post nutrition information.

However, in other rankings the United States maintained a relatively poor showing when it came to health.

The United States trailed many countries in life expectancy. The CIA World Factbook ranked the United States at 51 for life expectancy -- at birth U.S. life expectancy was 78.49 years in 2012 -- lower than for people born in Monaco at 89.7 years, Macau at 84.4 years and Japan at 83.9 years.

The infant mortality rate -- the number of deaths of infants age 1 and younger per 1,000 live births -- is another indicator used to evaluate the level of health in a country. The United States ranked 51 with six deaths per 1,000 live births. Monaco led the world again with infant mortality of 1.8 per 1,000 live births, followed by 2.12 per 1,000 births in Japan and 2.47 per 1,000 births in Bermuda, the CIA World Factbook said.

Another indicator of a country's health is maternal mortality rate: the annual number of female deaths per 100,000 live births from any cause related to or aggravated by pregnancy.

The United States ranked 47th with 21 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births compared to Estonia's 2 deaths per 100,000 lives births and 3 per 100,000 in both Singapore and Greece, the CIA World Factbook reported.

Nationwide, New England ranked as the healthiest region, with the West coast also ranking well. But the South known as the "stroke belt" since 1962 was also the "obesity belt," the "diabetes belt," the "heart disease belt" and the "lung cancer belt."

Federal, state and local governments, corporations and individuals in the United States spent $2.5 trillion, or $8,047 per person, on healthcare, representing 17.3 percent of the gross domestic product in 2009, up from 16.2 percent in 2008 -- more than double the cost of any other county in the world.

In the past year, U.S. smoking decreased from 17.9 percent to 17.3 percent in adults, the lowest in 22 years from a high of 29.5 percent in 1990.

In another study, the researchers investigated the association between U.S. smoking bans targeting workplaces, restaurants and bars passed from 1991 to 2008 and hospital admissions for smoking-related illnesses -- heart attacks and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease -- among Medicare beneficiaries age 65 or older.

The study found hospital admissions for acute heart attacks fell about 20 percent 36 months after restaurant, bar and workplace smoking bans. In addition, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease fell 11 percent where workplace smoking bans were in place.

A 2012 study found the total number and rate of reported abortions for 2009 decreased 5 percent, for a total of 784,507 abortions, compared to 2008.

Sixty-two percent of U.S. women of reproductive age used contraception, mostly birth control and sterilization, from 2006 through 2010, the latest data available.

Of the women using a contraceptive in the month of the interview, 10.6 million women, or 28 percent, used birth control, while 10.2 million women, or 27 percent, said they used sterilization.

Use of intrauterine devices as a current method was used by 5.6 percent and 11 percent of the women reported not currently using a method of contraception and were at risk of unintended pregnancy.

For people with diabetes, the death rates for heart disease and stroke dropped substantially -- 40 percent -- from 1997 to 2006.

Slightly more than half of Americans age 12 or older -- 133 million -- reported being drinkers in 2011 survey, similar to the rate in 2010.

Nearly a quarter of people age 12 or older -- 58 million people -- participated in binge drinking at least once in the 30 days prior to the 2011 survey.

Nearly 5 million people used marijuana on a daily or almost daily basis in 2011.

Among people age 12 or older in 2010 to 2011 who used pain relievers non-medically -- taking a prescription drug not prescribed or taking it for reasons or dosages other than prescribed -- 54 percent got the pain relievers from a friend or relative for free, 12 percent bought them from a friend of relative, 4 percent got pain relievers from a drug dealer or stranger and 2 percent got pain relievers from more than one doctor.

As 2012 draws to a close and plans are made for New Year's remember in 2011, an estimated 11 percent drove under the influence of alcohol at least once in the year.

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