The issue: Dollars and lives are at stake
If you live to be 75, you’re likely to outlast the Swiss and elders of most other wealthy nations.
AT THAT GOLDEN age, if achieved, Americans can finally look forward to outliving people in Switzerland, Japan and Australia, according to a report issued this month by the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council.
Until we reach that milestone, Americans die at younger ages than people in almost all other high-income democracies. Life expectancy at birth for men in the United States in 2007 was 75.6 years — 17th out of 17 nations included in the review; for U.S. women, life expectancy of 80.7 years, ranked only ahead of Denmark.
Americans have a pattern of poorer health than in most of our “peer” nations going back several decades that leads to more deaths at birth, in childhood, among teens, younger adults and through middle age. Nearly two-thirds of the difference in life expectancy for men in the United States versus other countries is due to deaths before age 50.
THE REASONS cited range from high infant mortality and low birth weight to high death and disability rates from violence, traffic accidents and drug overdoses to high rates of obesity, diabetes, heart and lung disease.
On the bright side, we smoke and drink less than many of the other wealthy nations, have fewer deaths from cancer and have lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Many headlines from the study have focused on violence. The U.S. has about six violent deaths per 100,000 residents a year — the most by far. Finland, with slightly more than two per 100,000 comes in second.
The report notes the widespread availability of guns, communities built around cars and driving, and consumption of too many calories for our own good.
BUT THERE are also some key differences between the United States and its peers. Most of the others have some type of national health coverage. The U.S. spends about $8,000 per person on health care each year, about twice as much as the other nations in the study.
Yet one in six Americans lacks health insurance and even more have difficulty accessing regular care.
The report points out that dollars as well as lives are at stake in the disparities. America’s ability to compete economically over the long term requires a healthier population and a health system that’s less of a drain on the national wallet.