TIME global health

This Is Now the Average Life Expectancy Worldwide

Southern sub-Saharan Africa was the only region worldwide to have a decline in life expectancy

Life expectancy across the globe has increased by more than six years since 1990 to 71.5 years, according to a new study.

“The progress we are seeing against a variety of illnesses and injuries is good, even remarkable, but we can and must do even better,” said lead study author Christopher Murray, a University of Washington professor, in a press release.

The study, published Wednesday in the Lancet journal, showed declines in the number of deaths from cancer and cardiovascular disease in high-income countries as well as in deaths from diarrhea and neonatal complications elsewhere. Both of these trends contributed to the overall decline. Importantly, medical funding for fighting infectious diseases has grown since 1990 and helped drive the improvement, according to Murray.

Still, despite the improvement, the number of deaths from a number of ailments increased. Perhaps most dramatically, deaths from HIV/AIDS joined the list of the top 10 causes of premature death. The number of annual deaths from the ailment rose from 2.07 million in 1990 to 2.63 million in 2013, the equivalent of a 344% increase in years of lost life. The increase in deaths from HIV/AIDS made southern sub-Saharan Africa the only region worldwide to experience a decline in life expectancy.

Other ailments that caused an increased loss of life include liver cancer caused by hepatitis C, which soared 125% since 1990, and deaths from disorders related to drug use, which increased by 63%.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Most Kids Don’t Eat Three Meals A Day, Study Says

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Kids get 42% of their calories from snacks

Eating three square meals a day is the oldest nutrition advice in the book, and some of the most important for staying healthy. But new research shows that children are snacking instead of eating three meals a day on a regular basis, a habit that could be contributing to overweight and obesity and putting them at risk of heart disease later in life.

In a series of reports published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the International Journal of Obesity and the European Journal of Nutrition, Aino-Maija Eloranta, a PhD candidate at the Institute of Biomedicine and Physiology at the University of Eastern Finland, and her colleagues followed a group of 512 boys and girls enrolled in the Physical Activity and Nutrition in Children (PANIC) Study. The children, ages 6-8, and their parents reported what the kids ate and drank for four days. The researchers also measured their body mass index, waist circumference, blood pressure, cholesterol, blood glucose and insulin levels.

MORE: 7 Eating Habits You Should Drop Now

About 45% of the boys and 34% of girls in the study ate all three meals, meaning a majority of them did not. The most-skipped meal was dinner. “That was a surprise,” says Eloranta. “Among older children, adolescents and even adults, breakfast is the one that is skipped.”

Skipping dinner can have major implications for children’s health, she says, since it’s traditionally the most calorie- and nutrient-rich meal, giving growing children the energy they need to develop. In fact, the children who ate three meals a day had smaller waist circumferences and a 63% lower risk of being overweight or obese than those who skipped some of the major meals.

MORE: 5 Things Everyone Gets Wrong About Breakfast

The scientists also found that among all kids, snacks provided as much as 42% of the children’s daily calories. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, says Eloranta, except that most snacks are high in sugar and low in healthy nutrients like fiber. On average, the children consumed more saturated fat (which has been linked to a higher risk of heart disease) and salt and ate less vitamin D, iron and fiber than guidelines recommend.

MORE: Alice Waters: The Fate of Our Nation Rests on School Lunches

Eloranta did find one positive trend: lunch. Because lunch was provided at school, it was lower in sugar and higher in nutrients and healthier fats than the kids’ other meals on average. This suggests that one of the best ways to help children maintain healthy weights and avoid heart problems later might be to give them three meals a day. “Maybe we don’t have to worry about single nutrients or single foods [like sugar or fat] that much,” she says. “When you eat meals, you automatically receive the good nutrients.”

TIME Heart Disease

The Other Reason Canned Food Is Raising Your Blood Pressure

Tinned sardines
Brad Wenner—Getty Images

Forget sodium—BPA might be the real canned food villain

If your food or drink comes out of a can, chances are it’s not the healthiest choice for your blood pressure (thanks to all that salt preserving your beans, for example.) But the latest research suggests there may be another reason to avoid canned goods. In a study published in Hypertension, researchers from South Korea found that drinking from cans, many of which have linings that contain the chemical bisphenol A (BPA), can raise blood pressure by 16 times compared to drinking from glass bottles.

The data isn’t the first to implicate BPA as a potential health hazard. Previous studies have connected the chemical, which can be found in plastics, the linings of cans and coating some cash register receipts, to disruptions in reproductive hormones such as estrogen, as well as a higher risk of asthma, obesity and disruptions in brain development in children. Exposure is almost unavoidable. Most studies show that people living in the U.S. have high exposures to BPA, and the chemical has been found in the urine of more than 95% of adults. One study found that eating canned soup for five days in a row can boost BPA levels in the urine by more than 1,000% compared to those eating soup prepared with fresh ingredients.

MORE: Why Receipts and Greasy Fingers Shouldn’t Mix

But those studies have compared different populations of people at different times. The Korean scientists decided to study the same group of 60 older people who drank the same beverages from both cans and glass bottles. Because the same people were being studied, it was unlikely that other factors that can affect BPA concentrations were influencing the results.

Senior author Yun-Chul Hong from the department of preventive medicine and the environmental health center at Seoul National University and his colleague found that the containers the drinkers used made a big difference in their BPA levels. Each was given two servings of soy milk during each of three visits. The milk was served in either two cans, two glass bottles, or one can and one glass bottle. The volunteers’ urine BPA levels were lowest after drinking from the two glass bottles, and highest after consuming milk from the two cans.

This difference translated to a change in 5 mmHg in blood pressure. Hong notes that an increase of 20 mmHg doubles the risk of heart disease, so the rise from BPA exposure is concerning.

MORE: BPA Linked with Obesity in Kids and Teens

“Because hypertension is a well-known risk factor for heart disease, our study showing the link of BPA exposure to elevation in blood pressure strongly suggests that BPA exposure may increase the risk of heart disease,” Hong writes in an email discussing the results.

When doctors evaluate patients for high blood pressure, asking them how many canned products they consume may be worthwhile, since the exposure to BPA from those containers could be pushing their blood pressure higher. “Clinicians and patients, particularly hypertension or heart disease patients, should be aware of the potential clinical problems for blood pressure elevation when consuming canned foods or using plastics containing BPA,” Hong says. And if you have a choice of getting your vegetables from the preserved aisle or the produce aisle, it might be better for your heart to kick the can.

TIME Obesity

Study: Obesity May Shorten Life Expectancy by Up to 8 Years

Young obese people are at most risk

A new study has found that obesity can shorten one’s life by almost a decade.

Researchers at McGill University linked obesity with an increased risk of developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes — ailments that dramatically reduce both life expectancy and the number of years spent free of chronic illnesses.

Obesity and extreme obesity can reduce life expectancy by up to eight years and deprive people of as many as 19 years of healthy living, the study published Thursday in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology concludes.

Researchers used data from the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey to create a model to estimate the risk of disease based on body weight and then examined how excess weight contributed to years of life lost. The model found that the younger someone becomes obese, the more years he or she ultimately loses.

“The pattern is clear,” Dr. Steven Grover, lead author and Professor of Medicine at McGill University, said in the published study. “The more an individual weighs and the younger their age, the greater the effect on their health, as they have many years ahead of them during which the increased health risks associated with obesity can negatively impact their lives.”

TIME Money

Your Credit Score Reveals Way More Than You Realize

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Credit Balance Report teekid—Getty Images

Bad scores can be a sign of poor health

Never mind the blood pressure test: A new study finds that you can tell how healthy someone’s heart is just by looking at their credit score.

The study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, finds a correlation between high credit, cognitive ability and self-control. Researchers studied health and financial data from more than 1,000 people who had been monitored since birth for nearly 40 years. They discovered that your credit does a lot more than tell a bank whether or not it should give you a loan.

Employers, insurers and even landlords regularly pull the applicants’ credit already, treating it as a proxy for a vague sort of approximation of your diligence, honesty and character. Consumer groups have raised questions about the use of credit as a way to assess things like people’s ethics, arguing that the two aren’t necessarily related.

“Credit reports were not designed as an employment screening tool,” says nonprofit group Demos. “Employment credit checks are an illegitimate barrier to employment, often for the very job applicants who need work the most.” In a survey of job-seekers, Demos found that one in seven people with blemished credit said that they’d been denied a job as a result.

But scientists insist the link is real and they have the proof to back it up. “What it comes down to is that people who don’t take care of their money don’t take care of their health,” study leader Terrie Moffitt says in a statement.

At least some of the factors that influence both health and credit have deep psychological roots. Moffitt’s team found about 20% of the correlation between credit scores and cardiovascular health can be attributed to attitudes and behaviors that are either innate or ingrained very early — the attributes in question were all observed before the participants were 10 years old.

On one hand, it makes sense that someone who exercises poor impulse control when it comes to their diet or fitness regimen might be similarly lackadaisical about their finances, but this doesn’t mean that hard-wired personality traits doom you to poor health and poor credit. Social scientists say they hope the knowledge can lay the groundwork for people to make positive changes in their lives.

“It provides hope that early life intervention can impede the development of life-long patterns of illness and financial struggle,” says Lamar Pierce, an associate professor of organization and strategy at Washington University in St. Louis, who was not involved in the study.

TIME

When the Heart Stops Beating, Advanced Care Might Not Be Better

Heart with coronary vessels
Getty Images

To restart a heart, a high-tech response doesn't mean better results

When emergency medical responders receive a call that someone’s heart has stopped, standard practice is to send the best help available: a truck equipped with a team trained in provide everything needed for advanced life support, from administering an IV drip to inserting a breathing tube down a person’s airway to get air into their lungs.

But in a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers led by Prachi Sanghavi, a PhD candidate in health policy at Harvard University, found that the more advanced teams and trucks didn’t always lead to better outcomes for patients. In fact, when people whose hearts had stopped received care from basic life support—oxygen via masks and life-support interventions like chest compressions with automatic defibrillators—they survived more often after getting to the hospital than those receiving advanced life support. Sanghavi and her colleagues, who included physicians at Massachusetts General Hospital, found that those receiving basic life support were 43% more likely to survive and be discharged from the hospital than those getting more advanced care by emergency teams. That pattern held even after 90 days.

MORE: Cardiac Arrest Patients Need CPR, Not Hospitals, Doctor Says

People who got basic life support also showed fewer effects on brain function compared to those who received the more sophisticated care. Only 21% of those admitted after getting basic life support showed poor brain functioning on tests of brain injury, compared to nearly 45% among those getting the higher tech services.

Why does the more advanced care lead to worse outcomes? Sanghavi says that the study, which looked at Medicare claim data for people having out-of-hospital cardiac arrest, did not collect data on the experience levels of the emergency medical responders, but they did account for potential influences such as the patients’ previous heart health history. She notes that the data involved only patients whose hearts had stopped, and not those who had a heart attack, in which blocked vessels may cause the heart to beat irregularly but continue to function.

MORE: New CPR Rules: Pump First, and Save the Breaths for Later

Researchers found that basic life support teams might be able to bring patients to the hospital more quickly because they aren’t equipped to do much in the way of treating patients in the field. “One argument is that the time it takes to provide interventions in the field isn’t worth it when the hospital is not far away,” says Sanghavi. The study looked only at urban or suburban areas where hospitals are relatively close by.

Data also shows that hospital staff may be more experienced at performing advanced life support techniques like inserting breathing tubes and setting IVs, so fewer complications may arise. Some previous studies found that emergency responders only perform about one intubation a year, a procedure that may require more practice to be performed well. “It’s the kind of thing you want to keep up with, and do all the time to be good at,” says Sanghavi.

MORE: New CPR Guidelines: Hands Only

Advanced life support teams are able to provide more potentially lifesaving drugs to patients, including those that may open up blockages or restart the heart. But using such drugs properly requires knowing exactly what caused the heart to stop, something that’s not always obvious to those working in an emergency situation in the field. “There are treatments that would get at the underlying cause of cardiac arrest that we would never provide in the field,” Sanghavi says.

Based on their data, Sanghavi’s team believes that the priority for patients whose hearts have stopped should be to transport them as quickly as possible to a hospital. For that, an advanced life support team—which is more expensive and may even end up doing more harm than good—may not be necessary. “We believe the priority should be to provide basic life support principles of rapid transport, because it doesn’t seem like advanced life support is doing any better,” she says.

TIME Heart Disease

Daily Aspirin May Not Prevent Heart Attacks

Aspirin
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Taking low dose aspirin may not help people with high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes to avoid a heart event

There’s a lot of evidence that taking low doses of aspirin daily can help heart attack patients avoid a second event. Aspirin’s ability to reduce inflammation and keep blood from forming vessel-blocking clots can be a life-saver. But what about the many Americans who take it daily hoping to avoid a first heart attack or stroke? The data there is more conflicting, and a large new study in JAMA published Monday suggests it may not make much of a difference.

The Food and Drug Administration recently said there was not enough evidence to support the idea that aspirin can prevent a first heart attack. So researchers in Japan decided to investigate the issue among 14,646 volunteers between the ages of 60 years and 85 years. Between 2005 and 2007, these participants, none of whom had had any heart events, but all of whom had at least one of the risk factors that could make them vulnerable, were randomly assigned to take a low-dose aspirin every day or not. They were allowed to continue taking whatever medications they were already or, or begin taking new drugs if their doctor prescribed them during the study.

Now, reporting in JAMA, scientists say that after five years, the study’s review board ended the trial when it was clear that there were no significant differences between the two groups when it came to heart attacks, strokes, other heart events or death. In that time, 58 people in the aspirin group died of heart-related causes, while 57 in the non-aspirin group did. Overall, 2.77% of those taking aspirin had a heart attack or stroke, compared to 2.96% among those not taking the drug — a difference that was not statistically significant.

MORE: A Low Daily Dose of Aspirin Can Cut Deaths From 3 Kinds of Cancer

The results add to the growing data on what role aspirin can play in preventing first heart events; previous studies showed that the over-the-counter drug was linked to anywhere between a 12% to 23% lower risk of events compared to non-aspirin use. But concerns over aspirins side effects, which include gastrointestinal bleeding, have made doctors more wary of recommending it for patients who have not yet had a heart event. Studies on aspirin in this group of otherwise healthy people are also difficult to conduct, since many people currently take multiple medications for various heart risks, including blood pressure drugs and cholesterol-lowering medications, making it difficult to determine what effect aspirin may have.

That’s why three other studies are currently investigating aspirin’s potential role in helping patients who have not yet had heart disease to avoid having heart attacks or strokes. One involves those with diabetes, another focuses on those with multiple heart-disease risk factors and the final trial concentrates on people over 70. Until those results are available, the authors say that patients should discuss with their doctors whether daily low-dose aspirin can help them to lower their risk of having a heart attack. For some, the benefits may outweigh the risks of bleeding, while for others, the side effects may not be worth the risks.

 

TIME Exercise/Fitness

5 Reasons to Exercise That Aren’t Weight Loss

Why you shouldn't give up the gym

Despite conventional calorie-burning wisdom, some people appear to not lose weight when they exercise, says a new study published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. In fact, some actually gain weight, and it’s not all muscle mass.

The study, by Arizona State University in Phoenix researchers, looked at 81 sedentary, overweight women who exercised three times a week for 30 minutes in a lab. After 12 weeks, the researchers found that some women lost weight while others gained weight. But when they tried to identify what was causing the differences, they couldn’t come to any conclusions. “In reality, most people do not achieve or sustain weight loss, no matter what method they try,” wrote New York Times writer Gretchen Reynolds on Wednesday.

Basically, major bummer. But there are many other reasons to exercise besides trying to shed a few pounds, and they’re equally important for your health:

1. Memory Loss: Chronic inflammation and hormonal imbalances are a couple of factors that can play a part in memory loss, and exercise can help both. Exercise promotes better blood flow through the body, and the brain works better with a healthy blood supply. For example, a 2012 study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease showed that people who spent time on a stationary bike had better memory recall than those who were sedentary.

2. Stress: Exercise has long been prescribed as a way to burn off steam and relax. It’s even recommended as a way to fight depression. How? Exercise keeps the brain occupied, and keeps the stress hormone cortisol in check which can lower symptoms for anxiety and restlessness, according to The Exercise Cure, by sports medicine physician Dr. Jordan Metzl. After a rough day at work or before a big exam or interview, even just a walk around the block can ease nerves.

3. Fatigue: It may sound counterintuitive, but working out can actually make you less tired than skipping the gym. A 2007 University of Georgia study showed that sedentary people could lower their fatigue by 65% if they started engaging in regular low intensity exercise. Increasing energy through exercise is also a safer and cheaper alternative to turning to quick fixes like energy drinks.

4. Cardiovascular disease: Getting regular exercise does the heart some good. In a 2012 study, researchers found that people who partook in moderate intensity exercise like brisk walking compared to leisurely walking reduced their chances of developing risk factors for heart disease and diabetes. The effect might be related to exercise’s benefits on lowering inflammation in the body.

5. Lower back pain: Back pain is a very common ailment, and studies have shown that the right kind of exercises like strength training can lower pain. Exercise is also one of the simplest ways to protect your body from future injuries.

 

MONEY Health Care

How to Protect Your Heart Health—and Save Big on Medical Costs

Heart Monitor
The costs of treating heart disease in America has hit $444 billion a year. Justin Lambert—Getty Images

A single heart attack could leave you on the hook for thousands. That’s just one reason prevention pays off.

You may have heard that heart disease is America’s biggest killer, but it’s also one of America’s costliest health problems. More than a third of adults in the U.S. have heart disease, and treatment costs totaled $444 billion in 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Yet heart disease is largely preventable, and most of us can do our part to avoid it — and the associated high medical bills.

“The patient who has a heart attack and comes to the emergency room within 90 minutes and is seen immediately…can be discharged the next day and return to work in a week or two,” says cardiologist Lawrence Santora, medical director of the Orange County Heart Institute and Research Center. “The cost is about $1,000 or so for the cardiologist and $15,000 to $20,000 for the hospital.”

In fact, the average cost of treating a patient admitted to a hospital with a heart attack is $18,200 according to Medicare data. Unfortunately, you don’t get to opt for the average charge, and if an ambulance brings you to one of the higher-cost emergency rooms for cardiology, the total tab for a single heart attack could be $100,000 or more.

That’s the cost without insurance. But even with health coverage, you’ll still have to pay out-of-pocket costs, which normally include your deductible and co-insurance. The cap on deductibles this year is $6,350 for an individual and $12,700 for a family, and rises to $6,500 and $13,000 in 2015. However, that includes only what you spend on covered items. Anything that your insurance doesn’t cover is billed at full price and does not count toward your deductible.

It’s hard to know what a heart attack will cost you because every hospital sets charges for individual services. The total cost of a heart attack varies widely across the country, and even within some metro areas. To get an idea of average costs in your area, check out this comparison tool by NerdWallet.

A single heart attack with no complications isn’t common, though. “The patient who delays coming to the hospital usually has more extensive heart muscle damage,” says Santora. “This is when costs skyrocket. A severely damaged heart muscle can lead to congestive heart failure and a lifetime of future hospital admissions.”

The Best Prevention

Fortunately, it’s far cheaper to prevent and detect heart disease early. While many people are genetically predisposed to heart problems, there are two ways you can protect yourself: a healthy lifestyle and early detection. When compared to the high cost of heart disease, and especially ailments such as heart attack and stroke, these are well worth the investment.

So what does that healthy lifestyle entail? It’s not as strict or as difficult as you might think, according to the American Heart Association. Just an average of 30 minutes of exercise each day, five days per week, and a few dietary changes will do.

“Do any exercise you enjoy,” Santora says. “A reasonable target is 150 minutes of aerobic exercise per week and light weight training for 20 minutes, three times per week. Buying a pedometer and walking 10,000 steps per day is another simple method to lower heart risk.”

As for diet, that’s also pretty simple, according to Santora. Stick to a Mediterranean diet and avoid processed meats whenever possible—although steak and other lean, unprocessed red meats are fine a few times a week—to keep your heart healthiest, he says.

“Don’t focus on cholesterol,” Santora says. “The cholesterol you ingest doesn’t raise the levels in your blood—it’s animal saturated fats that do that.” In other words, eggs and plant-based cholesterol are fine.

The Tests You Need

Lifestyle changes aren’t the only preventive measures you can take. Under the Affordable Care Act, many preventive services are free, including those that help improve heart health. Obesity and diet counseling, aspirin, blood pressure screenings, and cholesterol screenings are all provided free of charge as long as you have an ACA-compliant health plans.

Early detection means visiting your doctor regularly, sometimes getting diagnostic scans like echocardiograms or CT scans, and seeking immediate medical treatment whenever you suspect heart problems. Under the ACA a visit to your primary care doctor is also free once per year. Preventive and diagnostic measures are also likely to be covered in part by your health plan, because prevention saves insurance companies money down the road as well, according to the American Heart Association.

That monthly $60 gym membership fee is looking more and more like a bargain.

Read more from NerdWallet Health, a website that empowers consumers to find high quality, affordable health care and lower their medical bills.

TIME Heart Disease

A Gut Bacteria Compound Is Linked To Heart Failure

Most Americans know that diet and heart health are connected, but a new study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology looks at a surprising reason as to why.

When your food gets to your stomach, your gut bacteria get to work. And when those bacteria digest carnitine, which is almost exclusively found in red meat, and choline, found in high-fat dairy products and egg yolks, they produce a metabolite called trimethylamine N-oxide, or TMAO. That’s bad news for your heart, because earlier animal research found that TMAO helps transport cholesterol to the arteries, where it forms dangerous plaques that can lead to heart disease.

Stanley Hazen, MD, PhD, department chair of Cellular and Molecular Medicine at Cleveland Clinic’s Lerner Research Institute, and his team measured the blood levels of TMAO in 720 stable patients with heart failure and followed them over five years, wondering if TMAO would help predict who would be in better shape—and who would be still alive.

It did. TMAO levels predicted mortality rates “very strikingly” over the five-year period: More TMAO in the blood meant a 3.4-fold increased risk of mortality—even after adjusting for all the traditional risk factors, Hazen says.

“It suggests that we’ve now learned a new link in the cause [of heart failure],” Hazen says. “It suggests that the impact of dietary manipulation and changes in gut microbe composition may be a way to impact the development and the adverse prognosis in heart failure.”

TMAO research is still fairly new. Just last year in a study of 2,595 people, Hazen’s team found that meat eaters had higher levels of carnitine and greater risk of heart disease, stroke and heart attack than their vegan and vegetarian peers.

Still, Hazen doesn’t think it’s necessary for everyone to stop eating meat altogether. “What we are now trying to do is come up with a therapy that will prevent formation of TMAO, and hopefully prevent the development of cardiac disease…and the development of heart failure in its adverse prognosis,” Hazen says.

“I like kind of joking around, I’m hoping to come up with the pill that allows me to keep eating steak.”

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