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U.S. Gets Annual Health Checkup

U.S. residents are living longer and in some respects healthier thanks in part to a dramatic increase in the use of medical technology and soaring rates of body part replacements, according to a new report that offers a statistical snapshot of the nation's health.

The use of advanced imaging procedures such as MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), CT (computed tomography), or PET (positron emission tomography) scans "increased dramatically," the report concludes.

"Between 1996 and 2007, there was more than a threefold increase in the number of visits per population to physicians' offices that had these advanced imaging technologies provided, and there was a fourfold increase in these advanced imaging technologies ordered or provided during emergency department visits," said Amy Bernstein, a health statistician with the National Center for Health Statistics and lead author of the report.

"Medical technology in all its various forms has improved both the quantity and quality of many, many peoples' lives," Bernstein said.

Over the past decade, life expectancy in the United States has increased 1.4 years, reaching 77.9 years in 2007.

But with obesity and related ills on the rise, the nationwide health checkup offers mixed messages.

The wide-ranging report, released this week, analyzes data that is for years prior — representing the most recent years for which data has been fully analyzed in each case.

Among the findings:

No surprise, but body part replacements are climbing. Knee replacements soared 70 percent among the 45-plus age group, from 26.5 procedures per 10,000 people in 1996 to 45.2 per 10,000 in 2006.

Drugs administered to combat diabetes increased 50 percent from 1988-1994 to 2003-2006, among those age 45 and up. Use of statin drugs to lower cholesterol among this age group increased almost tenfold. Other studies have found soaring rates of obesity in recent years, and obesity causes diabetes and heart problems, as well as raising the risk for certain cancers and a suite of other health problems.

The number of kidney transplants jumped 31 percent from 1997 to 2006. Liver transplants hiked up by 42 percent.

One of the most interesting findings, Bernstein said:

"Among adults, about 30 percent of them report that they almost always or often had trouble sleeping in the past month."