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Obesity shortens Americans' lives compared to other developed nations

Craig Medred

Many old Americans appear to be eating themselves to death. That's one of the conclusions from the "Older Americans 2012: Key Indicators of Well-Being" report just out from the U.S. government.

It says that one of the reasons life-expectancy in the world's greatest democracy lags behind life-expectancy in other advanced nations is a national tendency to eat too much and exercise too little.

Obesity, reported MedPageToday.com, "persists as a major cause of premature death for older people. In 2009 to 2010, 38% of people 65 and older were obese. That's up from 1988 to 1994, when 22% were obese."

Alaskans are not immune. Another recent study found Alaskans aren't as fat as their fellow citizens in the Deep South, but they are just as caught up in the country's obesity epidemic.

The good news in the report on older Americans is that, on average, the country's citizens are now living longer than they did 20 years ago, thanks in large part to modern medicine. The report notes about half suffer from high-blood pressure, which most treat with medications; about a third suffer from heart disease, which can make it difficult to get around; and about 20 percent have diabetes. All have been linked to obesity and lack of exercise.

And more than half of older Americans suffer from arthritis, a painful joint disease that discourages some from getting any exercise, even though the Mayo Clinic calls exercise "crucial for people with arthritis."

The report notes the burden these health issues place on all Americans who pay taxes. Medicare costs for Americans 65 to 74 rose from less than $8,000 per person a year in 1992 to about $10,000 per person in 2008. Medicare is the national health-care program that both Republicans and Democrats support.