US Health Report: Exercising More, But Mental Health Suffers

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How healthy are people in the U.S.? A new federal report shows that although the country has made progress in some areas, such as increasing how much exercise people get and lowering the number of teens who smoke cigarettes, it's fallen behind in others, particularly in taking care of mental health.

The new report, published today (Jan. 11) by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), detailed the country's progress in meeting a set of 10-year national health goals that were set in 2010 as part of an initiative called Healthy People 2020.

The initiative called for improvements in 26 different measures of public health, covering a wide range of areas including access to health care services, mental health, quality of the environment, and rates of injuries and violence.

So far, the U.S. has met or exceeded eight of the 26 objectives, and has made progress toward meeting another eight of the goals, the report said. However, in seven areas, the country has seen "little or no detectable change," and in three, the U.S. is moving in the wrong direction, the report said.

Goals met

The new report shows that the U.S. has met the national objectives for improvements in maternal, infant and child health: The national rates of infant deaths and rates of preterm live births before 37 weeks of pregnancy have both dropped down to goal levels since 2007.

The percentage of people in the U.S. who regularly meet the recommended weekly goals for physical activity increased from 18 percent in 2008 to 21 percent in 2014, surpassing the target of 20 percent, according to the report. [How to Jump-Start Your Exercise Routine in 2017]

And fewer teens now report using illegal drugs, alcohol or tobacco in the previous 30 days, the report found.

In addition, people in the U.S. exceeded both of the goals in the "environmental quality" section of the Healthy People 2020 initiative: The proportion of children ages 3 to 11 who are exposed to secondhand smoke dropped from 52 percent in 2005-2008 to 41 percent in 2009-2012, and the number of days with poor air quality dropped significantly from 2006-2008 to 2012-2014.

Finally, the rate of homicides has dropped below the 2020 goal of a reduction to 5.5 homicides per 100,000 people, the researchers found.

On the right track

The country is making progress in another eight areas, the new report said. These improvements include increases in the percentage of people who have health insurance, a rise in the percentage of adults over age 50 who were screened for colon cancer and increases in the percentage of adults with hypertension who have their blood pressure under control.

The vaccination rates for children have also increased, up from 68 percent of children who were up-to-date on their recommended vaccines in 2012 to 72 percent in 2014, according to the report. The 2020 goal is 80 percent.

The report also found that the U.S. is in on the right track in lowering the rate of death from injuries, increasing the rate of students who get a high school diploma, increasing HIV awareness among those who have the disease and decreasing the percentage of adults who smoke cigarettes.

Progress stalled

However, there hasn't been progress in every area. For example, the CDC reported no changes in the proportion of people in the U.S. who have a primary care physician or in the proportion of sexually active women who received reproductive health services in the previous year.

In addition, the rates of obesity in both adults and children have remained steady over the past decade, and there's been no change in the amount of vegetables that Americans eat daily, the report said. [Which States Are Eating Their Fruits and Veggies?]

In two other areas — the percentage of people with diabetes whose blood sugar levels are under control and the percentage of people who binge drink — the country has also failed to make progress toward the 2020 goal.

Moving backward

The report highlighted three areas in which the U.S. is moving in the opposite direction from the 2020 targets, two of which fell in the mental health category. Since 2007, the suicide rate has increased, from 11.3 suicides per 100,000 people to 12.6 suicides per 100,000 people in 2013, the report found. The number for the national suicide hotline is 1-800-273-8255.

In addition, the rate of depression in teens has increased, up from 8.3 percent in 2008 to 10.7 percent in 2013. The 2020 is goal is a reduction to 7.5 percent.

The last category in which the U.S. is moving in the wrong direction is oral health. In 2007, 44.5 percent of people ages 2 and older had been to the dentist in the previous year. By 2012, that number had fallen to 42.1 percent, the report said. The 2020 is goal is 49 percent.

Originally published on Live Science.

Sara G. Miller
Staff Writer
Sara is a staff writer for Live Science, covering health. She grew up outside of Philadelphia and studied biology at Hamilton College in upstate New York. When she's not writing, she can be found at the library, checking out a big stack of books.