Why Americans Are So Damn Unhealthy

Why Americans Are So Damn Unhealthy
May 30 01:00 2017

Stand by for another round of partisan warfare, as Senate Republicans grapple with a replacement for Obamacare. You can expect to hear a lot about access to health insurance and coverage for pre-existing conditions. Those are important issues, for sure. But there are much deeper problems with health in America, which the current fight will do little to address.

Americans spend big on health care, yet die young

Life expectancy at birth for nations that have been members of the OECD since 1971. Turkey revised its method of calculating life expectancy in 2013.

Since the early 1970s, most developed countries have followed a similar trajectory: They have increased spending on health care and seen some impressive gains in life expectancy.

But one nation stands out for profligate spending and poor outcomes: The US has spent more than any other nation on health care, while its citizens still die fairly young. Among 23 nations who have been members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) since the early 1970s, only Turkey — which spends a tiny fraction of what Americans lavish on health care — lags behind the US on life expectancy. Japan leads the OECD with a life expectancy of 83.7 in 2014, almost four years longer than the US.

While some OECD countries, including the UK, have single-payer, government-run health care, this isn’t what separates the US from the rest of the pack. Switzerland, for instance, delivers almost universal coverage in a system that relies on competing private insurance companies.

Judged on life expectancy and other health outcomes, parts of the US look like the developing world.

Counties with longer life expectancy in 2014 than the overall US figure of 79 years are shown in green, those with shorter life expectancy in pink.

In America, how long you are likely to live varies dramatically from place to place. As this map shows, life expectancies by county in 2014 spanned a range of more than two decades. Residents of Summit County, Colorado, live even longer than those in Japan, while those of Oglala Lakota County in South Dakota die younger than the typical citizen of Cambodia or India.

Look at these outlier counties, and the reasons for this massive variation start to come into view. Summit County is about 90% white, with only about 14% of people below the poverty line. Residents of Oglala Lakota County are more than 90% Native American and more than half of them live in poverty.

In a study published earlier this month, researchers at the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in Seattle weighed factors that influence life expectancy across the US. Access to health care played a role, but the main drivers of bad outcomes were the intertwined effects of poverty, race, and behavioral factors like poor diet and infrequent exercise.

“We have very wide disparities, more than other countries,” Ali Mokdad, a member of the research team, told BuzzFeed News. In most countries, geographic variations in life expectancy are decreasing, he added. “But ours are increasing.”

The influence of socioeconomic and behavioral factors explains the pink stain of low life expectancy across much of the poor rural South and Appalachia, hit hard in recent years by an epidemic of opioid abuse…

Read full story at BuzzFeedNews
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