The infant mortality rate dropped to a record low in 2000 and life expectancy hit a record high, the report by the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics found.
"In 2000, Americans enjoyed the longest life expectancy in U.S. history — almost 77 years, based on preliminary figures," said the report, published on the Internet at http:/www.cdc.gov/nchs. "The life expectancy of men was 74 and for women almost 80."
The infant mortality rate — deaths before a child's first birthday — dropped to a record low of 6.9 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2000, down from 7.1 in 1999.
The report looked at statistics from 2000, the last year of the 20th century. Americans made marked gains in health in the second half of the century, the agency said.
"Among children and young adults 1 to 24 years of age, mortality has declined, in part because of decreases in death rates for unintentional injuries, cancer and heart disease," the report reads.
Adults aged 25 to 64 are less likely to die in accidents, of heart disease and stroke, thus lowering the overall risk of death for that age group. "Finally, among the elderly, marked decreases in death rates for heart disease and stroke have increased the average number of years Americans can expect to live after the age of 65," it said.
Many of the declines are due to better medical care and healthier lifestyles — especially a drop in the smoking rate. Cars are safer and more women start prenatal care as soon as they learn they are pregnant.
But as Americans make gains in these areas, they are endangering their health by becoming overweight and failing to exercise, the report said. This is especially worrisome when it comes to children and teen-agers.
The report said 61 percent of American adults are overweight and 27 percent obese, and 13 percent of children are overweight. The cause — overeating and lack of exercise.
"In 2000, 39 percent of adults reported that they did not engage in physical activity during leisure time,' the report said.
A report from the Institute of Medicine last week recommended that people get at least one hour of exercise every day to stay healthy — more if they wanted to lose weight. Obesity and a lack of exercise are strongly linked with heart disease, stroke, diabetes and several types of cancer.
The report also noted that Americans spent $1.3 trillion on health care in 2000 — 13.2 percent of the gross domestic product. This, the center said, is "far more than any other nation."
One-third of the money was spent on hospital care, about one-fifth on fees to doctors and one-tenth on prescription drugs.
"The cost of prescription drugs increased 15 percent a year from 1995-2000 — faster than any other category of spending," it said.
And these costs will probably rise as the nation ages.
"As the 'baby boom' generation turns 65, beginning in 2011, the size of the elderly population will grow substantially, the report said. "By 2050 it is projected that one in five Americans will be elderly."