United States Health Lags Behind Peers

The United States has the highest rates of obesity and infant mortality among its peers, as well as shorter lifespans, according to a recent report by the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council. United States health is far from number one in this report. The people of 16 other wealthy countries are living longer lives and enjoying better health.

This report provides stark comparisons for policy makers to consider as our nation approaches a new era of healthcare when the Affordable Care Act goes into full effect in the near future. The health disadvantages documented in the report exist even though the U.S. spends significantly more per person on healthcare than any other nation. The report compared U.S. health data with statistics from 16 peer countries, the high-income democracies in Western Europe, Canada, Australia, and Japan.

Several areas of great concern stand out in the report, which examined nine areas: infant mortality, injury and homicide rates, teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, HIV infection and AIDS, drug abuse, obesity and diabetes, heart disease, lung disease, and disabilities. The United States was found to have a higher infant mortality rate than the other countries, with 32.7 deaths per 100,000. Two-thirds of people in the U.S. have excess weight or obesity, and Americans on average consume more calories than people in most similar countries while having lower physical activity levels. The life expectancy disadvantage has been getting worse for three decades, especially among women. Overall, it is not only that lives are shorter, but Americans also have a pattern of poorer health that is remarkably consistent and pervasive from infancy to old age.

The report concludes that the United States cannot afford to ignore these problems as lives and dollars at stake. The Affordable Care Act may allow more individuals to have health insurance and healthcare coverage, but without addressing quickly and successfully those specific conditions responsible for the U.S. health disadvantage — such as infant mortality, obesity, and violence — the new health law may have little impact in improving the country’s health.

Click here to read the Reuter’s review article on this report, and click here to read the report brief from the Institute of Medicine.

Freshly pressed U.S. flag, image by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Bennie J. Davis III / Wikimedia