America Last Among Peers in Health

Compared to 16 other high-income countries, Americans have the worst health across age and socio-economic groups, according to a new report.

Compared to other high-income countries, Americans have the highest rate of disease and injury and die sooner, according to a new report from the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine.

The report compared the U.S. to 16 “peer” countries on specific causes of death grouped into three categories: noncommunicable disease; injuries; and communicable disease, maternal, perinatal and nutritional conditions.

"We were struck by the gravity of these findings," Steven H. Woolf, professor of family medicine at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond and chair of the panel that wrote the report, said in a statement. "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 U.S. was at or near the bottom in nine key areas of health: 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.

According to the report, many of the health conditions in the U.S. disproportionately affect children and adolescents. Nearly two-thirds of the difference in male life expectancy in the U.S. compared to other countries can be attributed to deaths before the age of 50.

Japan reported the least deaths (approximately 350) per 100,000 from all causes, while the U.S. reported the most at just over 500 per 100,000. And yet, the U.S. spends more per capita on health care than any other nation.

The report also revealed that Americans were the worst across socio-economic groups. Although the U.S. has relatively high rates of poverty and income inequality and is lagging in the education of young people, these factors can’t take the blame for America's poor standing. The research showed that Americans fare worse than other countries even when taking into account only whites, people with high income and health insurance, nonsmokers or people who are not obese.

"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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Americans Have Worse Health Than People in Other High-Income Countries