January 2011 Issue • Volume 39 • Issue 1

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Science Policy


Changes needed in how the United States tracks health trends and measures health outcomes

Social and environmental factors are the most powerful shapers of life expectancy and health-related quality of life, yet the United States lacks a cohesive national strategy and appropriate measurement tools to track and respond to these critical influences, says a new report from the Institute of Medicine. In the first of three reports, "For the Public’s Health: The Role of Measurement in Action and Accountability," the report found that deficiencies in the completeness, timeliness, and relevance of health information being collected and lack of agreement on the best indicators to measure progress are hindering efforts to improve the health of Americans, whose life expectancy ranks 49th among all nations. In this time of heated health care debate, the analysis notes that the absence of a benchmark report on nonmedical care-related factors that influence health leaves the public in the dark about the true state of the nation’s well-being and the types of efforts that are most likely to improve health outcomes. The report suggests that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) provide greater leadership, coordination, and guidance to the population health information and statistics system. It also recommends that the nation adopt a single summary measure of population health to serve as the GDP equivalent for the health sector and that HHS issue an annual report on the social and environmental factors that influence the population’s health as a means of helping Americans better understand what shapes their well-being at the local, state, and national levels. The report—sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation—can be found at www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=13005.

New data on Latinos in the United States are released

A Population Reference Bureau report by sociologist Rogelio Saenz, Texas A&M University, details how Latinos are increasingly influencing the demographic makeup of the United States. An follow-up to the 1997 report "Generations of Diversity: Latinos in the United States," the document provides new data and analysis on the U.S. Latino population’s diversity, socioeconomic status, and issues of identity. Between 2000 and 2009, the U.S. population grew by about 9 percent, rising from 281 million to 307 million. The Latino population increased by 37 percent—four times more rapidly than the United States overall—and accounted for slightly more than half of the nearly 26 million people added to the U.S. population in the past decade. During this time, the fastest growth in the Latino population—people who originate from Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, and Spain—occurred in places located in the South, Midwest, and selected areas of the Northeast and West. Today, Latinos make up almost one-sixth of the U.S. population. A variety of demographic factors, including high levels of immigration and a combination of high fertility alongside low mortality, partly explain the brisk growth. But the major underlying factor is the young age structure of the Latino population coupled with a rapidly aging white population. In 2009, the median age of Latinos was 27, compared with 41 among whites. As such, the influence of the Latino population will only grow in coming decades, and mostly through natural increase, not immigration. For more information, see www.prb.org/Publications/PopulationBulletins/2010/latinosupdate1.aspx. logosmall

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