Americans Less Healthy Than People in Comparable Countries
Healthier nation in the World
People in the United States are healthier than other nations, right?
A new report shows that when compared to people in similar “peer” nations, Americans on average die sooner and have more diseases and injuries. The findings of the report, from the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, apply to all ages, from birth to age 75.
Even more surprising, more advantaged Americans who have health insurance, college educations, and higher incomes tend to be more ill than similar people in developed nations. And the trend has been going on for decades.
The 16 countries the report focused on included Australia, Canada, and Japan. In nine key areas of health, the United States is close to or at the bottom of the list in these areas:
- infant mortality and low birth weight,
- injuries and homicides,
- teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases (STIs),
- HIV and AIDS,
- drug-related deaths,
- obesity and diabetes,
- heart disease,
- chronic lung disease,
- and disability
It would appear that the younger you are in America, the higher your risk of becoming seriously ill or dying. The United States has had the highest infant mortality rate as well as the highest teen pregnancy rate of any other high-income country for decades, and it ranks high for premature births. The issue of teen pregnancy is particularly problematic for the United States. A separate 2012 review from the University of Maryland of the high U.S. teen pregnancy rate notes that teens in the United States are two and a half times as likely to give birth as those in Canada, and 10 times as likely to give birth than Swiss teens.
The authors of the review explain that high U.S. teen pregnancy rates are most likely related to “underlying social and economic problems,” and that when teens become pregnant, they tend to “drop out of the economic mainstream.”
They choose non-marital motherhood at a young age instead of investing in their own economic progress because they feel they have little chance of advancement. This thesis suggests that to address teen childbearing in America will require addressing some difficult social problems: in particular, the perceived and actual lack of economic opportunity among those at the bottom of the economic ladder.
Other findings of the report are that traffic accidents and homicides are high among U.S. adolescents, as are STIs. Life expectancies among males under the age of 50 are much higher in the United States as well.
The Young Fare Worse
In fact, the report explains that on average, infants, children, and adolescents are more prone to death, illness, and injury than those in similar countries. The results are alarming, considering that the United States spends more per capita on health care than any other nation.
The report lists more poverty and “income equality,” as well as lower education levels in the United States as potential reasons for their findings. So how do you explain that when researchers looked at people with health insurance, and with higher incomes, they found a low health ranking as well?
Part of that trend may be explained by the fact that in general, Americans are more likely to practice certain unhealthy habits regularly, such as overeating and driving recklessly, than other countries. “Documented flaws” in the U.S. health care system may contribute to poorer health as well.
The report says U.S. national health objectives may be “less strenuous” than other nations, and that what is needed is a “comprehensive outreach campaign to alert the American public about the U.S. health disadvantage.” More research also is needed to understand what the United States could learn from other countries.
Not all results are so grim. Americans over the age of 75 tend to live longer, and there are lower rates of death from stroke and cancer in the United States. Americans also have lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and they are less likely to smoke than people in other nations.