Stories are waiting to be found in new stats on seniors

Judith Graham

About Judith Graham

Judith Graham (@judith_graham), is a freelance journalist based in Denver and former topic leader on aging for AHCJ. She haswritten for the New York Times, Kaiser Health News, the Washington Post, the Journal of the American Medical Association, STAT News, the Chicago Tribune, and other publications.

Older Americans 2012, a new report from the Federal Interagency Forum on Aging-Related Statistics, is an important resource for reporters on the aging beat.

Core Topics
Health Reform
Aging
Other Topics

It’s an overview of all kinds of issues affecting older adults based on data from 2009, the latest available. As such, it doesn’t reflect the full impact of the economic downturn on older Americans. But it’s still full of nuggets of interesting information.

Some items that caught my eye:

  • Fewer seniors are living in poverty. Between 1974 and 2010, the proportion of older adults with incomes below the poverty threshold fell from 15 percent to 9 percent.
  • More seniors now fall in the “high income” category. During the time period specified above, well-off older adults expanded from 18 percent to 31 percent.

  • About 40 percent of older adults pay upward of 30 percent of their income for housing and utilities. This is a substantial economic burden, and it speaks to a relative dearth of affordable housing for seniors.
  • As people live longer, racial differences in life expectancy narrow considerably. At age 65, whites can expect to live 1.3 years longer than blacks, on average. But at age 85, blacks can expect to live slightly longer than whites (6.8 years versus 6.6 years).
  • There are notable gender differences in the distribution of chronic disease among older adults. Women are more prone to have asthma, arthritis and hypertension than men. Men have more heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
  • 76 percent of people age 65 and older rated their health as “good, very good, or excellent” during 2008 to 2010.
  • 11 percent of people age 65 and older report meeting 2007 federal physical activity guidelines
  • Obesity is making inroads among older Americans, driven by increasing prevalence among older men. In 2009-10, 39 percent of people 65 and older were obese, up from 22 percent in 1988-94.
  • Health care expenditures, adjusted for inflation, have increased significantly for older Americans, rising to $15,709 in 2008 from $9,850 in 1992.
  • Older adults who are poor or near-poor (with incomes just above the poverty level) now spend 22 percent of their household income on health care services, up from 12 percent in 1977.
  • Fewer older adults are dying in hospitals and more are dying at home.

This is just what I picked up from the executive summary; I’m sure there’s much more of note in the body of the text that could serve as fuel for stories to come.

Judith GrahamJudith Graham (@judith_graham), AHCJ’s topic leader on aging, is writing blog posts, editing tip sheets and articles and gathering resources to help our members cover the many issues around our aging society. If you have questions or suggestions for future resources on the topic, please send them to judith@healthjournalism.org.

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