“We need to accelerate prevention,” Frieden said.
Bauchner, who is also a doctor, said that other remaining challenges include worrisome increases in Alzheimer’s disease, opiate use and mental and behavioral disorders.
“We can’t forget that poverty drives health care,” Bauchner said. While increased physical activity is not enough to solve the obesity crisis, he said, the issues surrounding diet are complicated and will take “a herculean effort to transform how we live.”
In 2010, 678,282 Americans died because of dietary risks, the study said, outpacing the 465,651 who died that year of smoking-related diseases. High blood pressure, obesity, physical inactivity, high blood sugar and high cholesterol claimed 1.4 million others.
“If the U.S. can make progress with dietary risk factors, physical exercise and obesity, it will see massive reductions in [premature] death and disability,” said Ali Mokdad, a University of Washington professor who worked on the studies. “Unhealthy diets and a lack of physical activity in the U.S. cause more health loss than alcohol or drug use.”
The “State of U.S. Health” study is the first comprehensive analysis of disease burden in the country in more than 15 years. It said that chronic disabilities in 2010 accounted for nearly half of all life-shortening health issues. Mental and behavioral disorders alone made up 27 percent of what researchers call “years lived with disability,” meaning the time spent in less-than-optimal health. The biggest contributors are depression, anxiety, drug use and alcoholism.
Researchers said they hope communities across the United States will use the online archive, at www.healthmetricsandevaluation.org, to look at their statistics and address their challenges.
“Success stories tell us changes in life expectancies are possible,” Murray said. “Success stories within the country tell us progress can be made. . . . Improving diet, stopping tobacco use and increasing physical activity can work.”
The doctors also acknowledged that pharmaceutical and medical interventions have improved since 1990, citing more widespread use of vaccines that have helped control influenza, statins that address cardiovascular issues and improvements in cancer treatment.
Although communities in the Washington region did not show major increases in physical activity in 2010, several were found to have among the lowest percentages of obesity.
Only 17.6 percent of the women in Falls Church were reported as obese, the lowest percentage in the nation. Men there came in third, behind San Francisco and New York City, with 19.5 percent reported as obese.
The men in Fairfax City and the District also made the top 10 of least-obese communities, with 22 percent and 22.4 percent, respectively.
Men in Fairfax County enjoyed the longest life expectancy in the United States, at 81.67 years. Montgomery County men were not far behind, with the fourth-highest expectancy, 81.57 years. Loudoun County men had the eighth-longest life expectancy, 81 years.
Women in Montgomery could expect to live 84.87 years, the second-longest life expectancy behind Marin County, Calif. Fairfax County women had the fifth-longest life expectancy, at 84.52 years.