Living longer

    This news has been routine for more than a hundred years, but it’s still good to hear: Americans are living longer than ever. A baby born in 2003 can expect a record lifespan of 77.6 years, up from 77.3 the year before and up over two years from the life expectancy in 1990.

    And more babies will have a chance to live that long. Continuing a 47-year decline, infant mortality in 2003 declined to 6.9 deaths per 1,000 live births.

    The increased longevity is due to improvements in medicine and to something else as well: We pay for it. Spending on health care in 2003 was $1.7 trillion, up from 14.9 percent of GDP in 2002 to 15.3 percent. Spending on prescription drugs rose 11 percent, and it’s a safe prediction that there will be even bigger spending increases now that the federal government is paying for drugs under Medicare.

    These numbers are courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Center for Health Statistics, two agencies that worry about our well-being. The CDC director, Dr. Julie Gerberding, used the occasion of these happy numbers to lecture baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, as they prepare to retire in their millions.

    True, deaths from heart disease, cancer and strokes continued to drop, but the CDC found that rates of hypertension and obesity, which can lead to all sorts of bad things, were higher for those born in the 1940s than for those in the generation born in the 1930s.

    Gerberding urged those in the 55-to-64 age group to adopt a healthy lifestyle, because although there are 29 million of them today, there will be 40 million of them in 2014. An ever-lengthening life expectancy is good only if that life is worth living.

    (Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)