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10-01-2013 | Article

US health reaches the bottom of the charts


Report brief

A panel of experts assembled by the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine found that Americans have a shorter lifespan than 16 other high-income countries. This shortcoming has only worsened over the past 3 decades - particularly for women - while poorer health was seen to pervade throughout the entire life course of Americans from birth to older adulthood.

The panel expressed that they were "struck by the gravity of its findings" in their report, US Health in International Perspective: Shorter Lives, Poorer Health, which also looked at countries such as Sweden, Japan and Canada.

Despite spending the most on healthcare, Americans fared worse in at least nine health areas that cover various forms of illness and injury, including infant mortality and birth weight, injuries and homicides, teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, HIV and AIDS, drug-related deaths, obesity and diabetes, heart disease, chronic lung disease, and disability.

"Many of these conditions have a particularly profound effect on young people, reducing the odds that Americans will live to age 50," wrote primary author Steven Woolf (Virginia Commonwealth University) and panel colleagues. "For those who reach 50, these conditions contribute to poorer health and greater illness later in life."

Overall, high-income countries ranked better than the USA on most measures of health, while the latter displayed lower cancer death rates and better control of blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Causes of the US health disadvantage were not primarily due to health disparities brought on by a lack of insurance or socioeconomic factors. "Several studies," wrote the authors, "[suggest] that even advantaged Americans - those who are white, insured, college-educated, or upper income - are in worse health than similar individuals in other countries."

Nonetheless, the authors noted that USA's comparably large uninsured population and limited access to primary care contributed to the disadvantage - along with poorer health decisions, such as caloric intake, drug abuse, and firearm use.

Higher levels of poverty reflect social and economic conditions that stifle education in the nation, which detracts from health, said the report.

"Americans are dying and suffering from illness and injury at rates that are demonstrably unnecessary," said the report. "Shorter lives and poorer health in the United States will ultimately harm the nation's economy."

The report called for efforts to hone in on the nation's weaknesses, such as infant mortality, heart disease, and obesity while medical entities study, learn and incorporate policies from healthier countries.

Organized public knowledge campaigns to promote health and elicit discussion were also pushed forward. "Most [Americans] might be surprised to learn that they and their children are, on average, in worse health."

By Peter Sergo, medwireNews Reporter