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U.S. Health Worse Than Nearly All Other Industrialized Countries

U.S. citizens suffer from poorer health than nearly all other industrialized countries, according to the first comprehensive government analysis.

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Indeed, some of the few categories in which U.S. citizens are found to do better than their peers in other countries include smoking less tobacco and drinking less alcohol. They also appear to have gained greater control over their cholesterol levels and blood pressure.

At the same time, people in the United States have begun to suffer inordinately from a host of other problems that can contribute to a spectrum of additional health concerns.

Sky-high obesity rates, for instance, are undergirded by findings that people in the U.S. on average consume more calories per person than in other countries, as well as analysis that suggest that the U.S. physical environment in recent decades has been built around the automobile rather than the pedestrian.

Health disadvantage

Confusingly, people in the United States not only record far lower health indicators on average when compared to other high-income countries, but also score far lower on seemingly unrelated issues related to environmental safety – for instance, experiencing inordinate numbers of homicide and car accidents.

The committee clearly had trouble putting together these seemingly disparate datasets.

“No single factor can fully explain the U.S. health disadvantage,” the report states. “More likely, the U.S. health disadvantage has multiple causes and involves some combination of inadequate health care, unhealthy behaviors, adverse economic and social conditions, and environmental factors, as well as public policies and social values that shape those conditions.”

According to Samuel Preston, a demographer and fellow committee member, “The bottom line is that we are not preventing damaging health behaviours. You can blame that on public health officials or on the health care system … But put it all together and it is creating a very negative portrait.”

Over the past decade, one of the most puzzling aspects of the opposition to greater insurance coverage in the United States was the belief espoused by many in the country that the U.S. health system, unique in its lack of state “interference”, was better than those in most other countries.

One of the committee’s central recommendations is the need to “alert the American public about the U.S. health disadvantage and to stimulate a national discussion about its implications.”

Amidst widespread discussions of austerity, lawmakers here in Washington are continuing to debate new ways to impose steep cuts on government spending. In this, the new findings could offer some caution.

“Policymakers must recognise the potential implications of current decisions that have to be made about public health and social programmes that are currently in jeopardy because of fiscal concerns,” Woolf says.

“Understanding how cuts to those programmes might help balance budgets will probably exacerbate the country’s current health disadvantage – and make greater demands on the system later on. We need to help them understand the larger economic implications, if not the human toll.”

 

Carey L. Biron is Washington correspondent for MintPress and as well as for Inter Press News focusing on issues of equity and accountability, environmental and corporate regulation, and international development and governance from Capitol Hill. Carey spent much of the past 15 years covering South and Southeast Asia as a radio and print reporter and editor.