The U.S. is falling behind other wealthy nations in key population health measures

July 11, 2013

The U.S. population is healthier than ever, but compared to other wealthy nations, the U.S. is falling behind.

The U.S. population is healthier than ever, but compared to other wealthy nations, the land of the free and home of the brave is falling behind.

A recent study in JAMA examined population health data from 34 countries from 1990 to 2010. During this period, U.S. citizens, on average, saw improved health with an increase in life expectancy.

The study, which attempted to identify leading diseases, injuries, and risk factors associated with the burden of disease in the U.S., found that U.S. life expectancy projections rose from 75.2 years to 78.2 years during that time frame. Healthy life expectancy increased from 65.8 years to 68.1 years.

But these statistics don’t look quite so encouraging when matched against other countries.

For life expectancy at birth, the U.S. dropped from 20th to 27th during the time period, while plummeting from 14th to 26th in healthy life expectancy.

“The United States spends the most per capita on healthcare across all countries, lacks universal health coverage, and lags behind other high-income countries for life expectancy and many other health outcome measures,” according to the study. 

Diseases and injuries with the largest number of years of life lost due to premature death were ischemic heart disease, lung cancer, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and road injury.

Also, low back pain, major depressive disorder, musculoskeletal disorders, neck pain, and anxiety disorders are the diseases with the largest number of years lived, according to the study.

 “Individuals in the United States are living longer but are not necessarily in good health,” the authors write.

What are the major health burdens across the United States? Morbidity and chronic disability account for nearly half of the U.S. health burden, the study says. Chronic disability includes mental and behavioral disorders, musculoskeletal disorders, vision and hearing loss, anemias, and neurological disorders.

“Research and development has been much more successful at finding solutions for cardiovascular diseases and some cancers and their associated risk factors than for these leading causes of disability,” the researchers wrote.

The authors’ prescription for improving population health includes public health programs and multisectoral action to address physical inactivity, diet, ambient pollution, and alcohol and tobacco consumption.