How U.S. Health Stacks Up

It’s no secret that countries compete for being one of the best in the world. Usually, though, experts look at factors like economic might and military strength as defining metrics. Health isn’t given much importance as a ranking factor, even though the health status of a countries population is in fact, quite telling. The United States, a country that is often referred to a “the most powerful country in the world” is sorely lagging behind when it comes to health.

Disproportionate Health Care Spending

A study from earlier this year shows that the U.S. spends about twice as much as other high-income nations do on health care, but has the lowest life expectancy and highest infant mortality rates. Health care accounts for almost 18% of the U.S.’s GDP, compared to about 9.6% to 12.4% in the other developed countries. According to the study, these high statistics can be attributed to the high prices for labor and goods, including drugs, procedures and administrative services in the U.S. These statistics also explain the rise in medical tourism, with patients from the U.S. going abroad – not only to low income countries, but other high income countries too – for medical care. For instance, this article by AMR states that a hip replacement surgery estimated to be around $100,000 in the United States was carried out for $13,660 in Belgium – an 86 percent decrease. With the vast difference in costs, it’s no surprise that the numbers reflect double the amount of healthcare spending in U.S. in comparison to other countries.

Despite the money that is funneled into healthcare, Americans are far from the healthiest. While populations from the other countries in the study showed an average of 72 years as the length of time a person lives in good health, a person in the U.S. can expect only 69 years of good health. Even when compared to low and mid-income countries, health statistics are not in favor of the US. According to Bloomberg’s Health Efficiency Index, which tracks medicals costs and value, the U.S. comes in at number 54 – well below countries like Malaysia, Lebanon, and even Mexico.

Dire Outcomes for the U.S.

Bloomberg’s Global Health Index rankings for 2017 revealed that Italy is the healthiest nation on the planet. According to Bloomberg, “The high-heeled boot surrounded by five seas is ranked the healthiest country on Earth in the Bloomberg Global Health Index of 163 countries. A baby born in Italy can expect to live to be an octogenarian.” Each country in the index was ranked based on variables such as life expectancy, health risks such as high blood pressure and tobacco use, the availability of clean water, and other causes of death. The United States placed 34, with the ranking for the prevalence of overweight people at 67.3; making it one of the world’s heaviest nations. Obesity is linked with many ailments, including diabetes and chronic heart diseases. It’s no surprise then that the U.S. sees more deaths related to cardiovascular diseases and diabetes than top-ranking countries like Italy and Spain, as corroborated by the World Heath Organization.

Italy and Spain, like many European countries, are two of the most fitness-conscious in the world. With a large emphasis placed on walking, people in these countries don’t live as sedentary a lifestyle as people in the U.S. Additionally, their daily diets, which are naturally ketogenic in nature, contribute to the healthy lifestyles people in these countries lead. The prevalence of foods like olives, olive oil, nuts, salmon and other fatty fishes – which are all staples in an Italian’s Mediterranean diet due to the country’s proximity to the coast – play a huge role in maintaining the health of its population.

On a more positive note, the burden of disease in the U.S. has declined significantly since the 1990’s. Disease burden is defined as “a measure that takes into account years of life lost due to premature death as well as years of productive life lost to poor health or disability.” It is important to estimate the burden of disease of a nation’s population as this metric provides insight into prevalent diseases which are not necessarily causes of death. In this way, the burden of disease gives deeper perspectives into the health of a population, as opposed to comparatively crude assessments as yielded by death rates.

While disease burden is higher in the U.S. than in other comparable high-income countries; it still remains lower than disease burden averages across the globe, and is steadily decreasing over time within the U.S. itself. Diseases such as HIV – of which there are 41,000 cases every year in the U.S., compared to the 25.8 million people living with HIV across Africa – contribute to the major discrepancies of disease burden across the world.

All in all, from the cost of healthcare to the actual health of its population, the U.S. doesn’t fare well in terms of health. While there’s no doubt that the health of the U.S. population has improved over the years, it still has a long way to go when juxtaposed with other comparable countries.

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