This headline recently caught my eye: “Life Spans of Older Women Tick Up Again”. I sat back for a moment, smiled and reflected on how far we have come in taking back the healthy aging reins. Then I caught the subhead. “… But overall, aging trends move downward”. Well, crap. That wrecked my brief moment of satisfaction.
Not too long ago, the government released America’s annual scorecard on aging and dying. I’m not generally a big fan of focusing on death, but this one offers a great teachable moment for all of us. It shows life expectancy for women at age 65 increased 0.1 years – or about an extra month. So the average woman who is 65 now, statistically speaking, can expect to live to 85.6 years old. For men, the story remains unchanged. For an average 65-year-old man today, the numbers show 83 is age when you’ll take your final bow.
Matters of Life & Death
Here’s the deal. Thumbing a little further through the summary report, the culprits quickly emerge. Heart disease. Cancer. Respiratory disease. Stroke. Alzheimer’s Disease. Diabetes. Kidney disease. Rounding out the list: unintentional injuries, flu/pneumonia and suicide.
It’s no coincidence that the majority of these are lifestyle-related diseases and conditions that are among the most preventable of all health problems. According to the Centers for Disease Control, seven of the top 10 causes of death in 2014 were chronic diseases, with heart disease and cancer killing nearly 46% of us.
Let’s pile on obesity to further illustrate the point. Two-thirds of all adults in America are overweight or obese. That puts a heck of a lot of folks on a sure path to type 2 diabetes, heart disease, some forms of cancer, dementia, stroke and Lord knows what else. And at the crux of all of this is the most basic of questions. When will we decide to make our own health a priority through physical activity and proper nutrition?
What Will It Take?
Ever wonder why our healthcare system is broken and overburdened? The obesity crisis costs a whopping $150 billion annually. Twice as many adults today and three times as many kids are obese compared with 30 years ago. And ladies, while we may outlive the men, we’ll still be the fatter gender, with more than 40% of us overweight or obese versus 35 percent of all men.
So I ask, what’s it going to take to turn our attention to take control of our health through our own behaviors? When will we stop making excuses and start taking action?
None of this is done overnight, and in fact the government, medical institutions, insurance companies and industries throughout the country are spending billions trying to teach us what to do.
In fact, it’s pretty simple, according to a report issued more than a decade ago by the U.S. Institute of Medicine’s Committee on Prevention of Obesity in Children and Youth. “To lead a healthier and more active lifestyle, many young consumers and their parents will need to alter their food and beverage preferences and engage in fewer sedentary pursuits in order to achieve energy balance.
The messages are being telegraphed to us from all directions and can be summed up in five words. Eat less and move more. The equation has always been simple. Energy in (calories from food) less energy expended (calories burned from movement) will determine our body mass. Strike a balance and our weight stays the same. Eat less than we expend and we lose weight. Eat more than we burn, and we get fat.
But why are these messages falling on deaf ears? The committee report holds the feet of the food and beverage industry to the flames. “The committee recommends that as new products are developed or existing products are modified by the private sector, it should be imperative that energy balance, energy density, nutrient density, and standard serving sizes are primary considerations in the process.” The committee also asked the food industry to investigate promoting smaller portions and serving sizes.
That was more than a decade ago, yet we continue to see minimal to no gains in health and mortality statistics. Again I ask, what will it take? In my opinion, we consumers need to take responsibility for our health, our compulsions, and our nutritional education. There is no one else to blame. An ocean of information is available today that makes eating right and exercising accessible to everyone.
I challenge you to take control. Let’s make next year’s 65-year-olds look like studs and buck the trends. Let’s dig deep and invest in the health and nutrition of our grandchildren and children.
My granddaughter, who is 6, offers a wonderful example. I pick her up from kindergarten occasionally when her mom and dad are at work, and we always go someplace together to pick out an after-school snack and chat about her day.
I ask, “Where are we going to get a healthy snack today?” And she says, “Well, I know you’re not taking me to McDonalds because it’s not very healthy.” That warms my heart. Because even if she makes bad choices from time to time or is taken by an adult to a fast-food restaurant, she is building a knowledge base and awareness that will serve her for a lifetime.
Let’s make as many healthy choices as we possibly can and do our part to save another generation from being dragged under by preventable lifestyle-related diseases. Healthy aging is a gift we all deserve.