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Americans living longer, but not necessarily healthier

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Albany/HV: Americans living longer, but not necessarily healthier
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The United Health Foundation released its America's Health Rankings Report for 2012, and there is some good news. Life expectancy is up to 78.5 years, and premature, cardiovascular, and cancer deaths have all decreased since 1990. But the chronic diseases people are dealing with as they age are reaching troubling levels. Sarah Blazonis reports.

UNITED STATES -- Dr. Sharon Brangman says she's seen many advancements in treatment during her 30 years in medicine, but there are limits to what doctors can do when it comes to some conditions.

"If you think about medicine, there are very few things that we can cure and make go away. The vast majority of problems that Americans face are chronic, which means you live with it, it doesn't go away," said Dr. Brangman, Chief of Geriatrics at SUNY Upstate Medical University.

Conditions like obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure are all at what the United Health Foundations called "troubling levels." Side effects can add up over time, taking away from the quality of life Dr. Brangman says is important to her patients.

"We get most concerned when they start to impact that person's ability to do things that we need to do to get through the day, like get dressed, get washed up," said Brangman.

Many of the medical advances used to fight off potentially deadly illnesses are also very expensive. And it's a cost not just passed on to those receiving treatment.

"Anytime the cost of health care goes up, the cost of the insurance for health care goes up, and some degree of that gets passed onto the purchaser," said Arthur Vercillo, regional president of Excellus BlueCross BlueShield.

The UHF says it's estimated that the costs associated with treating obesity will balloon to $66 billion per year by 2030, but medical officials say the good news is that many of these conditions are completely preventable.

"If we can reduce obesity, if we can stop smoking, if we can control our blood pressures... Then not only will we live longer lives, we'll live longer, healthier lives, and less expensive for us as individuals and for society," said Vercillo.

This was also the first time the health rankings report included figures for the number of Americans who are sedentary. They found more than 26 percent of Americans went without exercise for 30 days or more, and health officials say getting in 30 minutes of exercise everyday would go a long way to reduce the number of these chronic illnesses.

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