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Posted 5 months ago
January 10, 2013
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.
The study was commissioned by the National Institutes of Health, the federal government’s top medical research agency, and was carried out by experts appointed by the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine, two units of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences. It is the first analysis to compare the burden of multiple diseases and injuries in the United States and 16 other affluent democracies, including Western European countries, Australia, Canada and Japan.
American men ranked last in life expectancy among the 17 countries and American women ranked next to last. The United States also ranked at or near the bottom in nine areas, including heart disease, chronic lung disease, obesity and diabetes, injuries and homicides, and sexually transmitted diseases. “We were struck by the gravity of these findings,” said the panel chairman, Dr. Steven Woolf, a professor of family medicine at Virginia Commonwealth University. “What concerns our panel is why, for decades, we have been slipping behind.”
Likely explanations include a large uninsured population and more limited access to primary care, two problems that should be mitigated by the health care reforms that will kick in next year; higher levels of poverty and income inequality in this country; weaker safety net programs; sedentary lifestyles and obesity; higher rates of drug abuse and traffic accidents that involve alcohol; and greater use of firearms in acts of violence.
The panel suggested a campaign to raise public awareness of the American health disadvantage and a study of what other countries are doing that might be useful here.