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Americans Living Longer but Racial and Ethnic Disparities Remain

The Federal Inter-Agency Forum on Aging Related Statistics released a new report, Older Americans 2008: Key Indicators of Well-Being. According to the report, average life expectancy continues to increase, and today’s older Americans enjoy better health and financial security than any previous generation.

However, rates of gain are inconsistent between the genders and across age brackets, income levels and racial and ethnic groups. Some critical disparities also exist between older Americans and older people in other industrialized countries.

Highlights from Older Americans 2008 include:

  • In 2006, an estimated 37 million people in the United States—12 percent of the population—were 65 and older. Projections forecast that by 2030, approximately 71.5 million people will be 65 and older, representing nearly 20 percent of the total U.S. population.
  • Americans’ longevity continues to increase, although life expectancy at age 65 in the United States is lower than that of other industrialized countries. While older people experience a variety of chronic health conditions that often accompany aging, the rate of functional limitations among people age 65 and older has declined in recent years.
  • Life expectancy in the U.S. is lower than that of many high-income countries, such as Canada, France, Sweden and Japan. In the early 1980s, U.S. women age 65 had one of the highest average life expectancies in the world, but over the last two decades, the life expectancies of older women in many countries surpassed that of women in the United States.
  • Factors affecting the health and well-being of older Americans, such as smoking history, influenza and pneumonia vaccinations and mammogram screenings, are key indicators that have shown long-term improvements but no significant change in recent years.
  • There was no significant change in the percentage of older people engaged in physical activity between 1997 and 2006.
  • The percentage of people age 65 and older who are obese, as with other age groups, increased between 1988-1994 and 2005-2006, from 22 percent to 31 percent. However, over the past several years, the trend appears to have leveled off.
  • Between 1992 and 2004, average inflation-adjusted health care costs for older Americans increased from $8,644 to $13,052. Costs varied by race and ethnic group, income and health status.
  • In 2004, as in the previous 4 years, over half of out-of-pocket health care spending (excluding health insurance premiums) by community-dwelling older people was for purchase of prescription drugs. By 2004, prescription medications accounted for 61 percent of these out-of-pocket expenses. Out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs are expected to decline because of the savings available through the Medicare prescription drug program.
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