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Americans Live Sicker and Die Younger Than People in Other Wealthy Countries

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Core Tip: Americans live sicker and die younger than people in other wealthy countries — and the gap is getting worse over time, a new report shows. Me

Americans Die Younger Than Others in Rich Nations

Americans live sicker and die younger than people in other wealthy countries — and the gap is getting worse over time, a new report shows.

Men in the USA have shorter lives than men in 16 developed nations. American women also fall near the bottom of the list, living 5.2 fewer years than Japanese women, who live the longest.

Americans “have a long-standing pattern of poorer health that is strikingly consistent and pervasive” over a person’s lifetime, says the report, from the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council, independent, non-profit groups that advise the federal government on health.

“The tragedy is not that the United States is losing a contest with other countries,” the report says, “but that Americans are dying and suffering from illness and injury at rates that are demonstrably unnecessary.”

Family physician Steven Woolf, who chaired the panel that wrote the report, said authors were “stunned by these findings.”

The report’s most important purpose, Woolf says, is to alert Americans to these problems. “Our sense is that Americans don’t really know about this,” says Woolf, a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. “I don’t think people realize that their children are likely to live shorter lives than children in other countries.”

Most of the difference between male Americans’ longevity and that of their peers is due to deaths before age 50, with many problems rooted in poor childhood health, according to the report, published online Wednesday.

The USA has had the highest infant mortality rate of any developed country for several decades, due partly to a high rate of premature birth. With more than one in five American children living in poverty, the USA also has the highest child poverty rate, the report says.

The USA ranks at or near the bottom in nine key areas of health: low birth weight; injuries and homicides; teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections; HIV and AIDS; drug-related deaths; obesity and diabetes; heart disease; chronic lung disease; and general disability.

These poor outcomes are especially depressing, because the USA spends twice as much on healthcare — about $9,000 per person — as other industrial countries, says Gerard Anderson of the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, who was not involved in the report.

Authors examined health by income and race, Woolf says, to ascertain whether Americans’ overall low health scores were mostly due to the poor health among minorities and low-income Americans. Many studies have noted stark disparities in health between whites and blacks, for example.

Yet even wealthy, white Americans fare worse than their equally wealthy counterparts in other countries, Woolf says.

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