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A Population Plus: More Americans Living Longer

By Larry Lucas, Deputy Vice President
Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America

You may have heard the news: America’s melting pot now boasts 300 million residents, making it the third most populous nation in the world. In just 40 years, our country has grown by more than 100 million people – a figure greater than the entire population of France. And we owe it all to an increasing number of immigrants, a healthy birth rate and added life expectancy.

Let’s consider for a moment how increasing life expectancy has helped shape today’s 300 million Americans. With the average person living nearly 78 years, people in the United States are living longer than ever before, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The two leading causes of death – heart disease and cancer – are on the decline overall, as are deaths from stroke, pneumonia and cirrhosis.

This is good news, right? Well, maybe not if you are living in our nation’s capital or the American South. According to findings from a recent Harvard study, “Eight Americas: Investigating Mortality Disparities Across Races, Counties and Race-Counties in the United States,” Washington, D.C. ranks as the unhealthiest place to live in America with an average life expectancy of only 72 years, followed closely by Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and South Carolina. In other words, according to the study’s authors, “millions of Americans…have life expectancies that are similar to some low-income developing countries.”

USA Today reports that this apparent “longevity gap” revealed in the Harvard study seems to have less association with traditionally-assumed factors like income, and more to do with prevalence of chronic disease, such as heart disease and cancer. Fortunately there are affordable, effective measures to lower risks for these diseases – such as eating healthier foods, exercising regularly and, in some cases, taking medications that lower blood pressure and reduce cholesterol.

We are lucky to live in an age where innovative medicines are helping millions live longer, healthier lives. Recent research published in the journal Health Affairs concludes that new medicines generated 40 percent of the two-year gain in life expectancy achieved in 52 countries between 1986 and 2000. Just since 1990, scientists have discovered and developed over 300 completely new medicines, vaccines and biologics to treat over 150 conditions ranging from infectious to chronic diseases, and from diseases afflicting millions of patients to rare disorders affecting less than 200,000.

These discoveries are making a life-or-death difference for many coping with a range of conditions. For example, if you were diagnosed with AIDS in 1990, you might expect to live for only 26 months. Thanks to the approval in 1995 of protease inhibitors – and further advancements in new medicines and combination therapies in the decade since – the AIDS death rate has fallen by 70 percent.

But it’s not enough to simply survive. What good does it do you to live decades longer if you aren’t healthy enough to enjoy it? A good example of the progress being made to improve the quality of life for older Americans is Alzheimer’s disease research. Alzheimer’s is a neurological disease that affects millions of older Americans, gradually destroying a person's memory, judgment and overall ability to think. However, available treatments have been shown to delay nursing home placement by an average of 30 months, improving some patients' abilities to carry out daily activities by retaining their memory, thinking and speaking skills, according to a study published in the journal Value in Health.

As America charges past the 300-million milestone, we can be certain that innovative therapies and treatments are helping us lead active, healthy lives longer. For those who may need help paying for their medications, there are assistance programs available. Last year, America’s pharmaceutical research companies launched the Partnership for Prescription Assistance (www.pparx.org or 1-888-4PPA-NOW), bringing together more than 475 different public and private assistance programs in one place. Already, more than 3 million people have been connected to programs that can provide free or nearly free medicines.





Supported by America's Pharmaceutical Research Companies

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