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U.S. Health in International Perspective Shorter Lives, Poorer Health

Posted by Bob Armstrong on January 13, 2013 1:15 PM EST
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The title of this post comes from a recent study performed by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academes portrays severe issues in the U.S. Healthcare system.  

From The New York Times today (13 January):

It is no secret that the United States spends a lot more on health care than any other country yet ranks far behind other advanced nations in keeping its citizens healthy. This has been well documented in studies of older people and of newborn infants. It is now shockingly clear that poor health is a much broader and deeper problem than past studies have suggested.

An authoritative report issued by the Institute of Medicine this week found that, on average, Americans experience higher rates of disease and injury and die sooner than people in other high-income countries. That is true at all ages between birth and 75 and for even well-off Americans who mistakenly think that top-tier medical care ensures that they will remain in good health. The study found that even upper-income Americans with health insurance and college educations appear to be sicker than their peers in other rich nations.

Here is a link to the synopsis of the report.  From the report, here are the nine areas where Americans as a group fare worse: 

  1. Infant mortality and low birth weight
  2. Injuries and homicides
  3. Adolescent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections
  4. HIV and AIDS
  5. Drug-related deaths
  6. Obesity and diabetes
  7. Heart disease
  8. Chronic lung disease
  9. Disability

Also, from the report:

The United States does enjoy a few health advantages when compared with peer countries, including lower cancer death rates and greater control of blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Americans who reach age 75 can expect to live longer than people in the peer countries. With these exceptions, however, other high-income countries outrank the United States on most measures of health.


There is 1 comment



I am no expert but would be interested in others commenting on this report. Some of the categories seem to offer potential to be misleading.

On #1, there is an apples to apples issue with infant mortality rates. The U.S. follows the World Health Organization definition of a live birth, but many countries such as France and Switzerland do not, which results in the U.S. treating some births as live births that other countries would not.

Plus, how many countries have the same type of sophisticated neo-natal care the U.S. has? That care enables the U.S. to keep premature babies alive, but they are at very high risk and thus have higher mortality rates. How does this affect the comparison?

On #2, how exactly is homicide related to the quality of U.S. health care? In fact, some economists estimated in 2006 that if we could adjust country life expectancy for homicides, suicides, and auto accident deaths - ideally eliminating all of the deaths where there was no reasonable opportunity for the health care system to save lives - the U.S. would be at or very near the top of all developed countries. (

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Brian Teer

8 years ago

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