Friday, March 26, 2010

Four Preventable Risk Factors That Reduce Life Expectancy

I wanted to end the week by talking about something other than healthcare reform. There will be plenty more to talk about next week.

Imagine someone saying they would add five years on to your life if you would simply avoid a few health risks. This would get my attention. Hopefully it will get the interest of others as well. A study published this week in PLoS Medicine found four risk factors that, when combined, have a big impact on life expectancy; 4.9 years in men and 4.1 years in women. These four factors are:
1) Smoking
2) High blood pressure
3) High blood sugar
4) Obesity

No surprises here except for maybe the big impact they have on life expectancy. You don't die directly from these except high blood pressure but they are directly linked to chronic diseases that are fatal such as cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes. Knowing I could live in a relatively healthy state for five years longer is enough motivation for me.

Also not surprising is the fact that the study found a person's ethnicity and where they live is a predictor of their health. Asian Americans have the lowest body mass index, smoking rates and blood sugar, while white Americans have the lowest blood pressure. Black Americans have the highest blood pressure, while western Native American men and low income rural black women have the highest body mass index. Smoking rates are highest among western Native Americans.

We all know that the biggest savings in healthcare can be had if more people were healthy and didn't use healthcare services at the rate they do now. Hopefully studies like this one will motivate more of us to start or continue to live healthier lifestyles. I know I enjoy eating decadent foods and I hate working out vigorously, but I sure feel a lot better after months of working out than after a month long eating binge. Do we really need financial incentives to live healthier or is a longer life expectancy enough?

Mark Brodeur

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