Americans Living Longer
Than Ever - Poor Lag
Behind The Curve
By Mike Cooper

ATLANTA (Reuters) - U.S. life expectancy is at a record high, with death rates from heart disease, cancer and firearms on the decline, but Americans with little education or low income are lagging when it comes to good health, federal officials said Thursday.
The gaps in life expectancy between whites and blacks and between men and women have narrowed, the Centers for Disease Control said in a wide-ranging report on the nation's health. Life expectancy reached an all-time high in 1996 of 76.1 years, with women living an average of six years longer than men and whites living 6.6 years longer than blacks, the report said. The death rate from heart disease, the nation's leading killer, declined 12 percent between 1990 and 1996. The rate of death from cancer, the nation's second leading cause of death, fell 5 percent during the same period, after steadily increasing for two decades.
The death rate from stroke, the third leading cause of death, has shown little improvement since 1992, the CDC said. Between 1993 and 1996, the death rate for firearm-related injuries and the homicide rate declined by about 20 percent. The report, ``Health, United States, 1998,'' issued by the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, said that for almost all health indicators, an increase in either income or education level increased the likelihood of being in good health.
People with lower incomes or less education had a higher prevalence of risk factors such as cigarette smoking or a sedentary lifestyle, the agency said. They were also less likely to have health insurance or obtain preventive health care. Adults with less education tend to die younger and have higher death rates for chronic diseases, communicable diseases, and injuries, the report said.
Health & Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala said in a statement that the report ``documents the strong relationship between socioeconomic status and health in the United States for every race and ethnic group studied.'' The report said infant mortality fell to a record low of 7.3 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1996.