- WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The rich are getting not just richer but healthier,
too, while the poor are getting more than their fair share of illnesses
in the United States, the government said Thursday. Researchers who helped
put together the government's annual report card on the state of the nation's
health said they were struck by how strongly health, income and education
are linked in this country, despite efforts to give everyone the same shot
at a healthy life. ``We might be able to do a better job,'' Elsie Pamuck,
a health researcher at the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS),
who helped write the report, said in a telephone interview. ``What we see
is this overall picture of how important your socioeconomic status is,
measured by either education or income,'' she added. ``What I think is
very striking about this report is just how pervasive this is and how it
cuts across a whole range of health behaviors.''
- Despite years spent trying to iron out
inequalities, the report finds that life is still not fair in the United
States. Rich people are much more likely than anyone else to enjoy good
health. And the rich are getting richer. ``Income inequality in the United
States increased between 1970 and 1996. The growth in inequality was due
primarily to larger increases in income among high-income than low-income
households,'' the report, more than 400 pages thick, says. The top 20 percent
of earners made 22 percent more during that time, while most people earned
only between 5 and 7 percent more.
- ``Children under 18 years of age were
40 percent more likely to live in poverty than was the population as a
whole in 1996,'' the report said. This was especially true if a single
mother headed the household. And minorities are still the poorest group.
``On the whole, black persons and Hispanic persons had a poverty rate about
3.3 times that of non-Hispanic white persons,'' it said. There is plenty
of good news in the report. Heart disease and cancer. the two biggest killers
of Americans, are declining in all groups.
- ``Life expectancy is at an all-time high,
infant mortality is at an all-time low,'' Pamuck added. ``We have seen
significant declines in recent years in the main causes of death, in heart
disease and in cancer, from HIV and from gun-related violence.'' Life expectancy
at birth for someone born in 1900 was 47.3 years. Someone born in 1996
can expect to live to be 76.1 years old, as compared to 75.8 in 1995 and
75.5 for someone born in 1993.
- Someone who was 65 in 1996 can expect
to live another 17.5 years, up from 17.4 in 1995 and 11.9 in 1900. But
income still affects this expectation greatly. ``During 1979-89 white men
who were 45 years of age and who had family income of at least $25,000
could expect to live 6.6 years longer than men with family income less
than $10,000 (33.9 years compared with 27.3 years),'' the report said.
``This is the first time a lot of this information has been pulled together
and examined in a fairly systematic way,'' Pamuck said.
- She said the Public Health Service might
need to stop looking at health in a piecemeal way -- for instance how to
fight high blood pressure or how to persuade people to stop smoking --
and look at ways of improving health overall. ``As long as we approach
it in a piecemeal fashion we are sort of battling the tide,'' she said.
``Maybe there are better and more comprehensive ways to approach it and
I really don't think we've had that dialogue in this country.''