Americans Die Younger, Live Unhealthier Than Those In Other Wealthy Countries

Photo of doctor examining child.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

In a shocking finding, a huge new study concludes that young Americans are less likely to live to age 50 than citizens of other developed countries. In addition, Americans of all ages are in poorer health than their counterparts elsewhere, regardless of their economic status. Poverty is not the driver behind the statistics.

A report for the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine was released on Wednesday that compared the health of Americans to 16 other affluent countries. The low life expectancy in the U.S. was most affected by car accidents, gun violence, and drug overdoses. For example, firearm homicides here occur at a rate of 20 times that of other countries; firearm suicides occur 6 times more frequently. In 2007, sixty-nine percent of American homicide deaths were due to firearms, whereas the average rate of the other countries was 26 percent.

Americans also ranked at or near the bottom for many diseases and other health indicators, including heart disease, lung disease, obesity, and diabetes. According to The Atlantic, some of the most startling findings are that the U.S. has:

  • The highest rate of death by violence, by a stunning margin
  • The highest rate of death by car accident, also dramatically so
  • The highest chance that a child will die before age 5
  • The second-highest rate of death by coronary heart disease
  • The second-highest rate of death by lung disease
  • The highest teen pregnancy rate
  • The highest rate of women dying due to complications of pregnancy and childbirth

The head of the panel responsible for the study, Dr. Steven Woolf of Virginia Commonwealth University, said the news also stunned the researchers:

“Something fundamental is going wrong. This is not the product of a particular administration or political party. Something at the core is causing the U.S. to slip behind these other high-income countries. And it’s getting worse.”

Even though the United States spends more on health care than any of the other countries in the study, the country’s health ratings have been steadily declining since the 1950’s. At that time, it was near the top in terms of life expectancy and good health.

There is no one cause blamed for this deterioration. Rather, the study points to a number of underlying factors: the lack of primary care, a fragmented health care system, unaffordable care, a large uninsured population, and the most children living in poverty of all the countries in the study. There is also agreement that Americans make poor and self-destructive choices in terms of sugar consumption, the use of prescription drugs, and other risky behaviors.

The study suggested solutions to stem the decline in health, such as affordable health insurance, educational programs to teach better choices, and a stronger public safety net. And, of course, the specter of gun control hangs over the discussion as a way to reduce the horrific rate of gun deaths. The Affordable Care Act addresses at least some of these issues, such as better access to primary care, affordable insurance, and improved care for women. However, going any further with solutions requires action by Congress. Paula Braveman, co-author of the study, said:

“The political obstacles are the huge ones. My biggest hope is that this will shake people up and open people up to the evidence that’s there from other countries.”

“People” may be shaken up by the results of this study, but then there are the current GOP members of Congress. Whether or not the original causes of the situation were either political or partisan, the solutions surely are. How likely is it that the Party of No will take any of these disturbing facts to heart and extend a helping hand to their fellow Americans?

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