Americans are enjoying health benefits courtesy of innovations in medical technology, but they still suffer the consequences of their own lifestyle choices, according to a major report released Wednesday.
The annual complication, "Health, United States, 2009," is published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The 574-page document reports that one of the biggest transformations in American health care has been the use of technology, especially imaging tests. MRI, CT and PET scans were ordered in 14 percent of emergency room visits in 2007, compared to less than 4 percent in 1996.
The CDC uses the most recent data available to offer a snapshot of American wellness. For 2009, the CDC used information from '06-'07.
Advances in technology are lengthening lifespans, but some experts say the quality of life isn't improving because people continue to have poor diet and exercise habits. Here, a hospital worker prepares a patient for an MRI.
The study offers several reasons to explain the increased use of technology. Machines are more readily available and more effective than they were in the 1990s. But they remain expensive: A single scan costs upwards of $500.
And safety hazards remain a concern. The report notes that imaging tests have been linked to increased rates of cancer, depending on radiation dose. A single CT scan can emit as much radiation as over 400 chest X-rays.
Scans aside, Americans are making use of new medical options. The percentage of those taking at least one prescription drug has soared, from 39 percent between 1988-1994 to 47 percent between 2003-2006. Hip replacements are up by 60 percent. The use of assisted reproductive technology has doubled.
More effective imaging tests, combined with other technological innovations like knee replacements and organ transplants, are credited with improving our life expectancy. A girl born today can anticipate living until age 80, whereas a baby boy will reach 75.
But some experts warn that this technology is improving lifespan, without improving quality of life. "The more societal resources we allocate to medical technology, the less we may devote to supporting the lifestyle practices that can actually build health at its origins," Dr. David L. Katz, director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale School of Public Health.
And quality of life is an area that Americans still need to work on. According to the 33rd edition of the CDC report:
Only 31 percent of us get adequate exercise, and the number hasn't moved in the last decade.
Rates of obesity have doubled since 1976. As of 2006, 35 percent of adult Americans were obese.
More Americans than ever live without health insurance -- 16.6 percent of those under 65. But we're facing more out-of-pocket spending on medical care -- an average of $6,200 per person.
Around 20 percent of American adults still smoke, a decrease of only one percentage point in the last decade.
As life expectancy rises alongside health care costs, the CDC warns that there's a limit to the benefits we can gain from life-saving technology. "Questions remain about how much improvement is possible when resources are scarce and costs continue to increase," the report says.
The potential for technology will no doubt reach a limit, because of the limits of rapid innovation or the cap on our own pocketbooks. If we want to see improvements in health, the CDC report illustrates, our lifestyles and diets are what really need to change.
According to Dr. Robert O. Young, Director of Research at the pH Miracle Living Center, "the key to extraordinary health and fitness throughout ones life is maintaining the alkaline design of the body with an alkaline lifestyle and diet. This lifestyle and diet focuses on daily exercise for at least 1 hour, alkaline food including liberal amounts of green fruit and vegetables, drinking at least 4 liters of alkaline water at a pH of 9.5 daily, ingesting at least 3 ounces of polyunsaturated oils daily and finally eating 12 grams of mineral salts every day."