March 26, 2012

 

2012 Life Expectancy, US Second to Last

March 26, 2012. Seattle. The Annual Review of Public Health was released and this year’s results show the United States lagging behind every industrialized nation on Earth except Qatar. It’s ironic that during a week where the US finds itself debating President Obama’s universal healthcare in the highest court in the land, the country that spends more on healthcare than any other nation finds itself with the shortest life expectancy of any other nation, again except Qatar.

2012 Life Expectancy by nation. Data and image courtesy of AnnualReviews.org.

In a detailed review by Dr. Stephen Bezruchka of the University of Washington and published in the nonprofit science journal Annual Reviews, the study’s results paint a bleak picture for Americans. Poor diets and unhealthy lifestyles are the main cause of health problems in the US. Typically compared to other nations, American society has suffered from factors like widespread drug abuse, legal firearms, violence and a lack of universal healthcare. But recent years have shown that the more money Americans spend on care, the worse their standing gets. Now, the US spends as much as double some of its counterparts.



Some critics point to the lack of adequate care among typical US citizens. They argue that the richest and most powerful Americans truly do have the best healthcare in the world and their numbers show it. In just two examples pulled from current headlines, former Vice President Dick Cheney confirmed he did in fact receive a heart transplant, even though he’s well over the age of a normal American to be eligible for one. When R&B singer Beyonce gave birth in New York earlier this year, it’s widely reported she and her husband Jay-Z spent $1.3 million on the delivery. That covered not just pampering and luxury for mom and dad, but enough healthcare to handle any surprises.

While Beyonce and Dick Cheney are examples of the healthcare afforded to the privileged and elite of American society, the other 99 percent tends to find their situation more reflected by the February article, ‘A Lonely Voice Lost in America’s Missing Safety Net’. In the article, Joe Chicagoan he’s called, relays his tragic experience simply trying to gain access to a doctor in Chicago. From standing outside overnight in line at the only free clinic, to waiting three days in the emergency room waiting room, to being prescribed a pill that his Medicaid won’t pay for – Joe’s experience is not unique.

Without access to legitimate healthcare, the majority of Americans will continue to find their life expectancy falling embarrassingly short compared to the rest of the industrialized world. As released today and to be published in next month’s Annual Review of Public Health, here is the list of the top 35 nations as ranked by 2012 life expectancy.



2012 Life Expectancy

Japan – 83 years

Switzerland – 82

Australia – 81

Italy – 81

Iceland – 81

Israel – 81

France – 81

Sweden – 81

Spain – 81

Singapore – 81

Norway – 81

Canada – 81

Andorra – 80

Austria – 80

Netherlands – 80

New Zealand – 80

Korea – 80

Ireland – 80

Germany – 80

United Kingdom – 80

Belgium – 79

Finland – 79

Luxembourg – 79

Greece – 79

Liechtenstein – 79

Malta – 79

Cyprus – 79

Portugal – 79

Slovenia – 79

Costa Rica – 79

Cuba – 79

Chile – 79

Denmark – 78

United States – 78

Qatar – 78



As readers can see, the US ranks 34 out of 35 industrialized nations in life expectancy. Americans trail their long-time rival Cuba, where living conditions are often portrayed as less than healthy. And the US even finishes 28 places behind war-torn Israel. But why?

According to the report, the reasons are “complex and multifaceted” as to why life expectancy in the US is so low. The study suggests, “Medical care is the most often-stated factor believed to affect health.” The authors warn however that, “The terms ‘health’ and ‘health care’ are often used synonymously in the United States with terms such as ‘health services’.” They go on to explain, “Such language does a disservice to the cause of producing health.”

Critics of those who blame healthcare and unhealthy lifestyles suggest that the data shows the US isn’t as different from other nations as implied. The American Enterprise Institute points out that life expectancy in the US levels out with the other nations if certain types of deaths are removed from the numbers. They site examples such as, “homicides, motor vehicle crashes, suicides, falls, etc.” Apparently, the United States has a disproportionately high number of all those types of death.

The report also provides an examination of the amount of money Americans spend on healthcare each year. The total estimated for 2009, the first year available, is $2.5 trillion. That’s 18 percent of the nation’s entire Gross Domestic Product and much more than any other country in the world. By comparison, other nations much higher on the life expectancy list spend only 12 percent of their GDP on healthcare, some even lower.

As the report warns however, much of that money is being spent on the wealthiest handful of Americans, throwing off the average numbers. In fact, the report specifically explains that the wealth gap in the US is one of the main contributing factors to the nation’s suffering health and life expectancy. The report states, “Income and economic inequality are important factors in a wide range of social and health outcomes. One meta-analysis suggests that one-third of all deaths in the United States can be linked to inequality.”

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