A new report from the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine has declared that the U.S. ranks last in overall health among developed nations. The report, which compared the U.S. to 16 other nations, including Japan, the U.K., and most of Western Europe, found that while Americans spend the most on health care by far, life expectancy and general health are actually significantly poorer than in other countries.
As noted by the Associated Press, the researchers looked at three key components when comparing the U.S. to its peers. Those components were: harmful behaviors, social and economic factors, and the U.S. health care system. In each of the three categories, the U.S. scored significantly worse than its peer nations.
In what areas does the the U.S. rank the lowest?
The U.S. is ranked worst among its peers in nine key areas: injury and homicide rates; teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases; infant mortality; drug abuse; AIDS; lung disease; heart disease; disabilities; and obesity and diabetes. Many of those categories affect young people disproportionately, giving the U.S. the dubious distinction of ranking last when it comes to youth life expectancy.
In what areas did the U.S. rank well against its peers?
If an American reaches the age of 75, they can expect to live longer than their peers in other developed nations. The U.S. also ranks well in terms of controlling its cholesterol and blood pressure, and Americans that get cancer are less likely to die from it than people living in most other developed countries.
What in the report's findings was of particular concern to the researchers?
The Associated Press noted that Americans, particularly young Americans, are far more likely to die from violence, especially gun violence, than their peers in other nations. More than six out of every 100,000 Americans will die by violent means, more than three times the number reported by the next-ranked nation, Finland, where an estimated two out of every 100,000 people die violently.
Also of particular concern to the researchers is the infant mortality rate in the U.S., which stands at 32.7 deaths per 100,000. The rest of the developed nations in the report have an infant mortality rate that is between 15 and 25 deaths per 100,000.
What is causing the U.S. to have such low life expectancy and health outcomes?
According to a report by NBC News, the researchers believe the nature of American culture may be at least partially to blame. Dr. Steven Woolf, who chaired the panel that put together the report, told NBC News on Wednesday that American culture "cherishes personal autonomy and wants to limit intrusion of government and other entities upon our personal lives," and that "some of those forces may act against" methods or factors that would ensure longer, healthier lives.
Ana Diez Roux, who was also part of the panel that drafted the report, said that outside factors were "clearly" not the main influence, but that it was most likely "a whole bunch of things acting together." Heavily cited by the researchers were factors such as the prevalence of fast food in the American diet, a more sedentary, automobile-based lifestyle that keeps Americans from exercising, as well as cultural elements like the "personal autonomy" and reluctance to follow directives that Woolf had also mentioned.
Vanessa Evans is a musician and freelance writer based in Michigan, with a lifelong interest in health and nutrition issues.
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