Americans Suffer Worse Health Than Peers in Other Countries

WEDNESDAY Jan. 9, 2013 -- The United States is falling behind 16 other affluent nations in terms of the health and safety of its populace, and even younger Americans are not spared this sobering fact.

According to a new report, people living in the United States die sooner, get sicker and sustain more injuries than those in other high-income countries, such as Japan and Australia.

Even younger Americans with health insurance are prone to injuries and ill health, according to the report, released Wednesday by the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine.

"The health of Americans is far worse than those of people in other countries, despite the fact that we spend more [on health care]," said Dr. Steven Woolf, a professor of family medicine at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond and chair of the panel that wrote the report.

Compared to 16 other well-off nations in Europe and elsewhere, the United States occupies the bottom or near-bottom rung of the ladder in a number of health areas, including infant mortality and low birth rate, injury and homicide rates, teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections including HIV, drug-related deaths, obesity and its complement conditions diabetes and heart disease, chronic lung disease and disability.

Americans are seven times more likely to die of homicides and 20 times more likely to die from shootings than their peers in comparable countries.

The disadvantages extend across the human life span, from babies (premature birth rates in the United States are on a par with that of sub-Saharan Africa) to the age of 75.

They also extend beyond the poor and minorities.

"Even Americans who are white, insured, have college education or high income or [are] engaged in healthy behaviors seem to be in poorer health than people with similar characteristics in other nations," said Woolf, who spoke at a Wednesday news conference.

Commenting on the report, Bernice Rumala, an assistant professor of medical sciences at Quinnipiac University School of Medicine in North Haven, Conn., said: "Previous studies have focused specifically on low socioeconomic status populations and racial/ethnic minorities. However, this study has highlighted that there are larger contextual factors beyond socioeconomic status that are resulting in poorer health outcomes for everyone, not just the disadvantaged or racial/ethnic minorities."

A number of reasons account for the miserable statistics, the report authors said.

Among them: various lifestyle factors such as poor eating and lack of physical activity, disparities in health care, lack of health insurance, high rates of drug abuse, an unwillingness to fasten up while riding in vehicles, a propensity to use firearms and lags in education.

Even aspects of community development, such as the fact that many urban centers are based on automobile transportation, may play a role, said Dr. Ana Diez Roux, another report author and director of the Center for Social Epidemiology and Population Health at the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor.

On the plus side, the panel also found that once Americans reach the age of 75, they live longer than their peers in other developed countries. Americans are also less likely to die of stroke and cancer, better able to control blood pressure and cholesterol and less likely to smoke.

Nevertheless, the findings and the challenges they highlight were daunting to the researchers.

"If we fail to act, life spans will continue to shorten and children will face shorter lives and greater rates of illness than those in other nations," Woolf said.

More Information

Visit the Institute of Medicine for more on the findings.

Posted: January 2013


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