U.S. lags other developed countries in health, life expectancy, report finds

National Academies report ranks U.S. "at or near bottom" among 17 developed nations

WASHINGTON — A new report gives low marks to the United States in the health of its citizens, finding that Americans have higher rates of injury and disease and die sooner than their counterparts in other developed countries.

The report, conducted by the non-profit National Academies with sponsorship from the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Health and Human Services, found a disadvantage at all ages from birth to age 75 years even among college-educated Americans with health insurance, higher incomes and healthy behaviors.

"We were struck by the gravity of these findings," Virginia Commonwealth University professor of family medicine and chairman of the panel that assembled the report Steven Woolf said. "Americans are dying and suffering at rates that we know are unnecessary because people in other high-income countries are living longer lives and enjoying better health. What concerns our panel is why, for decades, we have been slipping behind."

The report compares the United States with 16 affluent democracies, including Canada, Australia, Japan and several countries in western Europe, placing the United States at or near the bottom in terms of infant mortality and low birth weight, injuries and homicides, teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections, prevalence of HIV and AIDS, drug-related deaths, obesity and diabetes, heart disease, chronic lung disease and disability. Many of these conditions, the report found disproportionately affect children and adolescents, and the United States has had the highest infant mortality rate of any high-income country for decades while also ranking poorly in premature birth and the proportion of children who live to age 5 years.

While the United States has long spent more on health care per capita than any other country, flaws in the healthcare system were not the sole contributor to the problem, nor is the country's overall disadvantage the result of problems concentrated among the poor and uninsured. For example, the report found Americans more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors such as heavy caloric intake, and the country lags others in educating young people while showing relatively high rates of poverty and income inequality.

The report recommended an intensified effort to pursue national health objectives, including an outreach program to alert the public about the country's health disadvantage and encourage a discussion about its implications, while also recommending collection of data and research to better understand factors responsible for the problem.

"Research is important, but we should not wait for more data before taking action because we already know what to do," Woolf said. "If we fail to act, the disadvantage will continue to worsen, and our children will face shorter lives and greater rates of illness than their peers in other rich nations."

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