Perhaps it should have been obvious, given the barrage of stories about obesity in America, that America would fare worse than its counterparts in terms of mortality among young people. But a new report provides some startling statistics.
The comparison with Canada, Japan, Australia, France, Germany and Spain, among other developed countries, is stark. In this apples-to-apples examination, American men ranked last in life expectancy among the 17 countries; American women ranked next to last.
The 378-page study by a panel of experts convened by the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council shows death before age 50 accounting for about two-thirds of the difference in life expectancy between males in the United States and their counterparts in 16 other developed countries. It’s about one-third of the difference for females.
The study is the first to systematically compare death rates and health measures for people of all ages, including youths. And the results make up what the panel described as a pattern of higher rates of disease and shorter lives, dubbed “the U.S. health disadvantage.”
The leading contributors include car wrecks, gun violence and poisonings. Other contributory causes related to lifestyle raise our rates of heart disease and diabetes. By now, most of us realize that the country as a whole could use more exercise and less fat in our diets.
Here’s more evidence: the United States had the second-highest death rate from the most common form of heart disease, the second-highest death rate from lung disease and the highest diabetes rates.
The United States also had the highest infant mortality rate among the countries studied and has the highest rates of sexually transmitted diseases, teen pregnancy and deaths from car crashes. Not surprising, America had the lowest probability overall of surviving to the age of 50.
Keeping as many illegal guns as possible off the streets is a big first step that both the Cuomo and Obama administrations are attempting. Movement toward that goal has predictably outraged many, but the numbers suggest America has much to gain from tougher gun laws.
The United States spends more on health care than any other country, but the report says we also have more uninsured compared to other countries and less primary care. The Affordable Care Act will reduce the number of uninsured, but far more must be done to eliminate the health gap.
This area is fortunate in that regard, with progressive initiatives coming from Independent Health, Catholic Health, BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York and Kaleida and a huge cadre of primary care physicians working to streamline and improve care. Local groups such as the Community Health Worker Network of Buffalo are trying to deal with cost and quality and with what really makes America 17th in the world.
Our nation didn’t get this unhealthy overnight and getting better will take time. But we have to begin the effort.