USA – Americans have shorter lives and poorer health than other developed countries

poorhealthThe health of the US nation is in a very poor state according to a report ‘U.S. Health in International Perspective: Shorter Lives, Poorer Health’ commissioned by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The report compares evidence of health and life expectancy in the US to 16 other high-income democracies in Western Europe, Canada, Australia and Japan.

According to the report, the main contributing factors to the poor health and life expectancy of US males and females are:

  • Poor Health Systems. Unlike its peer countries, the United States has a relatively large uninsured population and more limited access to primary care. Americans are more likely to find their health care inaccessible or unaffordable and to report lapses in the quality and safety of care outside of hospitals.
  • Poor health behaviour. Although Americans are currently less likely to smoke and may drink alcohol less heavily than people in peer countries, they consume the most calories per person, have higher rates of drug abuse, are less likely to use seat belts, are involved in more traffic accidents that involve alcohol, and are more likely to use firearms in acts of violence.
  • Poor social and economic conditions. Although the income of Americans is higher on average than in other countries, the United States also has higher levels of poverty (especially child poverty) and income inequality and lower rates of social mobility. Other countries are outpacing the United States in the education of young people, which also affects health. And Americans benefit less from safety net programs that can buffer the negative health effects of poverty and other social disadvantages.
  • Poor physical environments. U.S. communities and the built environment are more likely than those in peer countries to be designed around automobiles, and this may discourage physical activity and contribute to obesity.

The panel was struck by the gravity of its findings. For many years, Americans have been dying at younger ages than people in almost all other high-income countries. This disadvantage has been getting worse for three decades, especially among women. Not only are their lives shorter, but Americans also have a longstanding pattern of poorer health that is strikingly consistent and pervasive over the life course – at birth, during childhood and adolescence, for young and middle-aged adults, and for older adults.

The U.S. health disadvantage cannot be fully explained by the health disparities that exist among people who are uninsured or poor, as important as these issues are. Several studies are now suggesting that even advantaged Americans – those who are white, insured, college-educated, or upper income — are in worse health than similar individuals in other countries.

TABLE: Seventeen High-Income Countries Ranked by life Expectancy (LE) at Birth/ 2007


  Males       Females  
Rank Country lE   Rank Country lE
1 Switzerland 79.33   1 Japan 85.98
2 Australia 79.27   2 France 84.43
3 Japan 79.20   3 Switzerland 84 09
4 Sweden 78.92   3 Italy 84 09
5 Italy 78.82   5 Spain 84 03
6 Canada 78.35   6 Australia 83.78
7 Norway 78.25   7 Canada 82.95
8 Netherlands 78  01   7 Sweden 82.95
9 Spain 7762   9 Austria 82.86
10 United Kingdom 7743   9 Finland 82.86
11 France 77.41   11 Norway 82.68
1 2 Austria 7733   12 Germany 82.44
13 Germany 7711   13 Netherlands 82.31
14 Denmark 76.13   14 Portugal 82.1 9
15 Portugal 75.87   15 United Kingdom 81.68
16 Finland 75.86   16 United States 80.78
1 7 United States 75.64   17 Denmark 80.53


The full report is available at the National Academies website


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