American Life Expectancy: A Call to Action for Nurses

By: Martha Tice MS, RN, ACHPN, Clinical Nursing Editorial Director, Nurse.com
Martha Tice, RN

Martha Tice, RN

“Americans die sooner and experience higher rates of disease and injury than people in other high-income countries.”

It was hard to miss the message from the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine report, published earlier this month. The headline was everywhere, including Nurse.com.

I don’t know about you, but it got my attention! At first I was surprised, but as I listened to news reports and read more about the study findings, it began to make more sense. Continued high infant mortality rates, traumatic deaths (motor vehicle and gun related), HIV-AIDS deaths, drug- related mortality, the prevalence of obesity and diabetes, heart disease and chronic lung disease all contributed to the finding that Americans are less likely to make it to age 50 than our peers in 16 other developed countries.

We spend more on healthcare than any of the other “rich” nations in the study, so why is this happening? According to the report, the reasons are varied and complex. Personal lifestyle choices and a shift to more sedentary work are part of the problem, but access to and cost of healthcare, and inconsistent quality of care are on the list.

Complex problems don’t have simple solutions. The panel recommends an intensified effort to pursue established national health objectives such as those contained in Healthy People 2020. They call for a comprehensive outreach campaign to alert the American public about the U.S. health disadvantage and to stimulate a national discussion about its implications. At the same time, they recommend data collection and research to better understand the factors responsible for the U.S. disadvantage and potential solutions, including lessons that can be learned from other countries.

So what can we do as nurses? To get the “big picture” view, read the report and become knowledgeable about this disturbing trend. We can help spread the word to friends, family, colleagues and patients that Americans no longer have an advantage when it comes to life expectancy, particularly for those under the age of 50. Challenge yourself and them to do even one small thing to improve their own health. For me that means committing to walking even 15 minutes more each day.

Keep an open mind about the healthcare reform law because this study indicates access to and cost of care has played a part in the existing disparity. Quantity of care is not necessarily the answer — quality should be the focus because inconsistent quality was another important contributor to the problem identified by the panel. Take time to learn about the latest research and incorporate it into your care. Nurse.com continuing education courses can help you translate that evidence into your practice. It’s not enough to tell patients they need to exercise more and eat healthier diets. We need to coach patients to move toward permanent behavior change.

There are over 3 million licensed nurses in the United States and its territories. We can make a difference in national health policy.

Courses to help you make changes for yourself and your patients:

Putting Patient Teaching Into Practice
Discover theoretical information and practical strategies that can help you improve your skills as a patient educator.

Adult Obesity in the United States: A Growing Epidemic
Educate yourself about the growing epidemic of obesity among adults in the United States.

Exercise for Health and Fitness
This course provides healthcare professionals with current physical activity/exercise guidelines for healthy adults.

Weight Management: Facts Not Fads
Empower yourself to help patients evaluate dietary recommendations and to make lifestyle changes to better manage their weight.

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