THE AMERICAN WAY OF HEALTH—GROWING OLDER SICKER—AND DYING SOONER
NOT A GOOD RECORD FOR THE RICHEST COUNTRY IN THE WORLD
A few days ago, an authoritative report was issued by the Institute of Medicine which states quite categorically that, on average, Americans experience higher rates of disease and injury, and die sooner, than people in other high income countries.
Americans grow older sicker—with all that such implies in terms of quality of life.
That news should have been devastating enough—we came last out of 17—but it also pointed out that even upper income Americans with health insurance and college educations appear to be sicker than their peers in other rich nations.
The first observation I would make is that the report received surprisingly little publicity. I read about it in the New York Times on January 10 2013, but have detected no follow-up stories of substance. That is terrifying in itself. Once again, America has been singularly ill-served by its media. Painful truths of national significance—which might disrupt the advertising flow—have a way of not being discussed. So much for free speech.
But why should U.S. health results be so alarming? For instance, this country ranked last, or close to last, in nine areas including heart disease, chronic lung disease, obesity and diabetes, injuries and homicides, and sexually transmitted diseases.
I don’t pretend to know the answers, but let me hypothesize:
- A significant section of the population does not have adequate healthcare.
- Medical practice, in itself, is profit rather than results driven, and is deeply flawed.
- The nation is over-medicalized, particularly in relation to prescription drugs.
- The American diet is arguably the worst in the developed world. Industrial food, and fast food, are killing us. Our food ingredients—from beef to our water supply—are largely contaminated.
- The American aversion to vacations is contributing to a singularly stressful environment—with all its attendant consequences.
- The U.S. environment is heavily polluted.
- The U.S. way of life—sedentary, highly stressed, largely uniformed, and aggressive—is scarcely conducive to a long and healthy life.
I make these observation reluctantly. I’m a guest in this country. Still, this is too important an issue to remain silent about.
It is salutary to think that these terrible results exist despite the fact that the U.S spends roughly 18 percent of its GDP on health—vastly more than other developed nations. The top end—countries such as Germany, Switzerland and France—spend roughly 12 percent of GDP to achieve vastly better results. In effect, the U.S. spends 50 percent more to achieve an inferior result. That difference of 6 percent of GDP, which could be used to improve the quality of American life, in effect functions as an additional tax.
U.S. politicians, particularly Republicans, like to trumpet that the U.S. has the best healthcare in the world. The facts do not support that statement; or come close.