American Life Expectancy: A Call to Action for Nurses

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

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. 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.

Welcome to — leading the conversation about nurses’ professional lives, news and ideas. Follow our blog and be where the nurses are.

6 Responses to American Life Expectancy: A Call to Action for Nurses

  1. Honalee says:

    This was an eye opening article for me to read. It’s very true. I also believe we should lead by example.

    • I agree! So many nurses are going outside to smoke and many of us are fat! I quit smoking and I know you can’t always encourage others to quit but that doesn’t mean you stop trying. Weight control is hard I know because so far I have lost 40 of the 60 lbs I gained when I quit smoking. Nurses don’t also realize if you are obese how can you tell a patient to lose weight and watch their diet? Exercise is the hardest of all and no I have not mastered that one but, at that I am exercising with physical therapy for my back then when I get strong I will exercise to maintain everything I have worked hard to achieve! I know when I get back to work I will be able to teach more effectively because I have been there and I refuse to go back to the unhealthy lifestyle!

  2. pauldigby says:

    You were surprised to hear this of American health and healthcare status?

    Here we have a problem. You appear to be an intelligent, thoughtful, and clearly kind person. You are a nurse. I have time for nurses. Nurses are core care-workers and special people more often than not – and yet you have only just discovered this?
    This has been the case for so many years it’s not even funny to think about it.

    The American cover-up is way too effective (for this is why you have not heard of this before). Ask any educated person in Europe, and they will tell you that American Health Care is failing Americans. It’s not news. Diet and exercise matter, yes. But also unnecessary and damaging vaccinations, medical procedures and excessive prescribing of ineffective and sometimes damaging drugs.
    Food (GMO, and over-processed, immune damaging foods that have little to do with what the body actually needs) are rife here in the USA. High Fructose Corn Syrup (human bodies cannot really deal with the stuff) is in everything.
    And the list goes on.
    Food underpins health as does exercise, yes.
    Nurses do a fantastic job with what they are given – but sadly they are not told the truth because the truth is not lucrative.

    People do die in hospitals at a higher rate than in many European countries, and that needs looking into, but essentially the ‘food pyramid’ is out of whack (hence the rise of diabetes type II) and there is the permissive inclusion of poisons into food in the USA that is not tolerated elsewhere.
    It kills people early.

    Information is there on the internet, but one is never going to find much of it in ‘popular media’ or from institutions that are funded by the pharmaceutical and food industries. They would have us consuming the worst possible things for a human body to consume over time. It ain’t ,’the real thing’ at all!
    Time for change!

    Essentially – long healthy lives come to those who do not NEED to use the healthcare system much……

    Live long and well. Walking helps – eating well helps also (less easy to find here).

  3. Nina says:

    We prescribe drugs to mask the symptoms and do little to treat the real cause of the problem. Doctors are too quick to hand out drugs to patients that would do well with a simple dietary change. Nurses can make a huge difference by simply coaching patients and make suggestions for diet and exersize plans.

  4. In spite of having the best heath care system in the world, Americans still suffer from lower life expectancy. There are various causes behind this, such as lifestyle choices like smoking addiction, bad food habits, and increase in obesity rates etc. All these could be avoided by proper education. By educating the country about healthy living and taking preventive measures can make the difference.

  5. This is an interesting piece of information related to the health of the American population. This especially since we are constantly to focus on the baby-boomer generation and older adults living longer. However your focus was on those individuals under the age of 50 and included lifestyle choices that may have contributes to poor outcomes at an early age. Health people 2020 and the initiatives need to be more visible to the American public. This is wonderful piece of information, very timely and very informative.

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