Increasing Quality of Life in the US

Quality adjusted life expectancy has increased in US in the last two decades

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) While there are a number of public health issues that still need to be fixed, there are signs that our overall health and quality of life is improving.

A recent study found that quality-adjusted life expectancy increased for individuals, aged 25 and older, of all races and both genders.

The researchers found that the biggest reasons for the changes seen in quality-adjusted life expectancy were changes in obesity and smoking rates.

"Maintain a healthy weight and get help to quit smoking."

This study was led by Susan Stewart, PhD, with the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) in Cambridge, MA. The research team examined US trends in health-related quality of life and quality-adjusted life expectancy from 1987 to 2008.

Health-related quality of life focuses on physical, mental, emotional and social functioning and how these factors influence quality of life. Quality-adjusted life expectancy is the number of years a person is expected to live taking into account the quality of life he or she is expected to have in those years.

The researchers analyzed data from multiple national surveys including the National Health Interview Survey, the National Nursing Home Survey and the National Medical Expenditure Survey. Based on the outcomes studied, analysis was restricted to individuals age 25 and older.

The researchers specifically looked at life expectancy, impairments, symptoms, smoking status and body mass index (BMI; a measure of height and weight).

Impairments and symptoms were grouped into seven broad categories: problems with primary activity (working or housekeeping) or social activity, physical activity limitations (e.g., performance of tasks for routine needs or having trouble with specific movements), mental health symptoms, sensory problems (e.g., vision and hearing impairment), pain, cognitive impairment and low energy.

Individuals were split into two age groups for data analysis: age 25-64 and age 65 and older. Overall, the average quality-adjusted life expectancy increased by 2.4 years for 25-year-olds and 1.7 years for 65-year-olds.

An increase in quality-adjusted life expectancy was seen for all groups, with smaller differences between genders and races as time progressed, and a greater rate of increase among seniors.

The researchers found that the greatest factors affecting changes in quality-adjusted life expectancy were changes in obesity and smoking rates. The increase in obesity lowered quality-adjusted life expectancy while the decline in smoking increased it, but the overall net effect was positive.

The researchers also found that there were improvements among both age groups in difficulty with major activity, depressive mood, vision and low energy.

There were a few negative trends, however, such as a sustained increase in anxiety among young and middle-aged adults and increases in difficulty with bending, standing, reaching and cognitive impairment for both age groups.

The study authors concluded that while population health has significantly improved in the US over the past two decades, data from large national health surveys need to be combined to better monitor these trends in the future.

This study was published on September 12 in the American Journal of Public Health.

The study authors reported no competing interests.

Review Date: 
September 18, 2013
Last Updated:
September 19, 2013