A fascinating article over at CNN about why we’re just not doing as well as our peers. Some snippets:
Despite spending more per person on health care than any other country, Americans are getting sicker and dying younger than our international peers — a problem persisting across all ages and both genders, according to a new report.
In 2011, the National Research Council found life expectancy in the United States was increasing at a slower rate than in other high-income democracies. Shortly after, the NRC and Institute Of Medicine convened a panel of experts to investigate why.
The panel was given 18 months to review recent health studies from 16 “peer countries”: Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.
The panel released its report, titled “U.S. Health in International Perspective: Shorter Lives, Poorer Health,” on Wednesday.
“Our panel was unprepared for the gravity of the finding we uncovered,” chair Steven Woolf wrote in the report’s preface. “We hope that others will take notice.”
This is not a new problem, Woolf noted on a conference call about the report. “It’s been going on since 1980 and it’s getting progressively worse.”
Data from 2007 show Americans’ life expectancy is 3.7 years shorter for men and 5.2 years shorter for women than in the leading nations — Switzerland for men and Japan for women.
As of 2011, 27 countries had higher life expectancies at birth than the United States.
“The tragedy is not that the United States is losing a contest with other countries,” the report states, “but that Americans are dying and suffering from illness and injury at rates that are demonstrably unnecessary.”
America does rank well in some health measures, according to the panel. The United States has higher cancer survival rates, lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels and lower smoking prevalence rates than many of its peer countries. Those Americans who make it to age 75 will survive longer than their peers in the comparison countries.
But that’s where the good news stops.
The report outlines nine health areas where the United States lags behind other rich nations, including infant mortality, homicides, teen pregnancy, drug-related deaths, obesity and disabilities.
Americans have the highest prevalence of AIDS in the group. Seniors are at a greater risk of developing and dying from heart disease. And our children are less likely than children in peer countries to reach their fifth birthday.
But the panel says that’s not all that’s to blame. Studies show even white, insured, college-educated Americans are sicker than their peers in Europe.
The experts gave three other possible causes for the country’s growing health disadvantage:
Though Americans know what’s “good” for them, few act on it. Although we are less likely to smoke and drink heavily than our peers, we consume more calories, have higher rates of drug abuse, are less likely to use seat belts and are more likely to use guns in acts of violence, according to the report.
Most high-income countries report income and education disparities in their health care system. But the panel said Americans benefit much less from social programs that could negate the effects of poverty.
Our environment is also a big contributor to Americans’ poor health, the panel said. U.S. communities are built around automobiles, discouraging physical activity and increasing traffic accidents. Contraceptives are only available by prescription, instead of over the counter. Even stress could play a role — adding to our waistlines, substance abuse and criminal behavior.
We can thank religious activists for some of this. The crusade to limit access to contraceptives, women’s health services and other medical care on grounds of “religious freedom” has no doubt caused harm to Americans.
We can also thank politicians (mainly Republicans) who have been on an apparently endless mission to reduce, cripple or outright eliminate entitlement programs or charity programs or funding to organizations that provide help for those who otherwise could not get it.
The attitude of “American exceptionalism” may also be partly to blame. The notion that America is the best and greatest country in the world has also given rise to an attitude of “I’m an American, no one gets to tell me what to do or how to do it.”
In some cases, this has led individuals to defy rules, laws, safety mandates, etc. simply because they feel said rules are not necessary and shouldn’t apply to them or they’ve simply been conditioned to get a kick out of “sticking it to the man.”
My American wife has commented in the past about how seriously we take driving with seat belts in Canada. She said she was stunned at the negative reaction she received from my Canadian friends when she related a story about driving on a highway without a seat belt on.
American cities, especially in the South, are not as pedestrian/cyclist friendly as they should be. This trend seems to be slowly changing, but it will take awhile to see long term health benefits in the population as a result.