Young Americans are dying at higher rates than young people in any other country in the world – primarily as a result of gun violence, car accidents and drug addiction. This startling piece of evidence comes from a sweeping new study sponsored by the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council and conducted by a panel of experts.
The report – titled U.S. Health in International Perspective: Shorter Lives, Poorer Health – examines the body of research on life expectancy and health in America and 16 other “high-income democracies” including the United Kingdom, Germany, Canada, Australia and Japan.
The analysis found that Americans perform the worst in the world on nine health indicators including:
- infant mortality and low birth weight
- injuries and homicides
- adolescent pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease
- HIV and AIDS
- drug-related deaths
- obesity and diabetes
- heart disease
- chronic lung disease
In fact, the U.S. ranked at the bottom on nearly every health indicator the panel reviewed with the exception of deaths from cancer that can be detected by tests, and blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
While the report offered some potential explanations for Americans’ poor health, there is no clear-cut evidence on how to fix the problem. The panel found that Americans have less access to health care compared to people in other countries, and that they suffer from higher rates of poverty and income inequality.
The panel also found that health behaviors are a contributing factor. Americans are more likely to abuse drugs, get involved in traffic accidents involving alcohol, use firearms in an act of violence, fail to wear a seat belt and consume high levels of calories.
This disturbing news should serve as a walk up call. Clearly eating well and exercise are important, but there are economic and cultural issues at work that require a broader response.