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Health Highlights: Sept. 21, 2012

Life Expectancy Falls for Least Educated Whites in U.S.

The life expectancy of the least educated whites in the United States fell by an average of four years between 1990 and 2008, The New York Times reported Friday.

The reasons for the decline among whites without a high school education remain unclear. But the researchers said possible explanations include: an upsurge in prescription drug overdoses among young whites; higher rates of smoking among less educated white women; rising obesity rates; and an increasing number of less educated Americans without health insurance.

The sharpest drop in life expectancy was among white women without a high school diploma, who lost five years of life expectancy during the study period. By 2008, black women without a high school diploma had a longer life expectancy than white women with the same education level, said lead investigator S. Jay Olshansky, a public health professor at the University of Illinois in Chicago.

White men without a high school diploma lost three years of life expectancy between 1990 and 2008, while life expectancy for blacks and Hispanics with the same education level rose, according to the study published last month in the journal Health Affairs.

However, blacks overall do not live as long as whites, and Hispanics live longer than both blacks and whites, the Times reported.

Life expectancy for white women without a high school diploma is now 73.5 years, compared with 83.9 years for white women with a college degree or more. Life expectancy for white men without a high school diploma is 67.5 years, compared with 80.4 years for those with a college degree or more, the newspaper said.

"We're used to looking at groups and complaining that their mortality rates haven't improved fast enough, but to actually go backward is deeply troubling," John G. Haaga, head of the Population and Social Processes Branch of the U.S. National Institute on Aging, told the Times. He was not involved in the new study.

The decline in life expectancy among less educated whites has contributed to the United States' decline in international life expectancy rankings, particularly for women. American women fell from 14th place worldwide in 1985 to 41st place in 2010. Among developed nations, American women went from the middle of the pack in 1970 to last place in 2010, according to the Human Mortality Database.


IUDs, Hormonal Implants Best for Teen Birth Control: Docs

Doctors should be recommending IUDs or hormonal implants for sexually active teenage girls, according to new American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) guidelines.

The group said that IUDs and hormonal implants are safe and nearly 100 percent effective at preventing pregnancy and should be "first-line recommendations" for teenage girls, the Associated Press reported.

Birth control pills are the most popular form of contraception in the United States, but often must be taken at the same time every day to be most effective. Forgetting to take even one pill can lead to pregnancy, which is the reason why the pill is sometimes only 91 percent effective, ACOG said.

IUDS and hormonal implants require a doctor to put them in place. That, and cost, are likely why the pill is more popular, the AP reported.

The new guidelines don't tell teens not to use other birth control methods, but "if your goal is to prevent a pregnancy, then using an implant or an IUD would be the best way to do this," guideline writing committee leader Dr. Tina Raine-Bennett said.

No matter what type of birth control is preferred, condoms should be used at all times to protect against HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, ACOG said.

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Posted: September 2012