A report from the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council revealed bleak statistics on the comparative health of the citizens of the United States compared to sixteen other high-income countries.
The report revealed that Americans have been dying earlier, on average, than almost all other countries. Of the sixteen countries ranked, American males ranked last in life expectancy and American females ranked sixteenth out of seventeen. The report notes that this trend has been ongoing and progressively worsening since 1980; Americans are dying prematurely with poorer health during their lives. The report states:
“The tragedy is not that the United States is losing a contest with other countries but that Americans are dying and suffering from illness and injury at rates that are demonstrably unnecessary.”
The report identified nine key areas in which Americans demonstrate poorer health status; a few of note are the direct results of poor nutrition and lifestyle habits: obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Out of the 17 countries, the U.S. was ranked 2nd in the number of ischemic heart disease deaths and 3rd in diabetes deaths. Americans consume more calories per person than any other country in the world, and our eating habits are killing us. Obesity was a significant contributor to the shortened life expectancy observed in Americans; obesity accounted for 42 percent of the reduction in life expectancy American females and 67 percent of the reduction in males.
It is well known that the U.S. spends more money on health care per person than any other nation.
The report noted that Americans have greater “control” over blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and still have the next-to-highest death rate from ischemic heart disease. We take more medication for heart disease risk factors, and yet are more likely to die from heart disease. We spend the greatest amount of money, and die the earliest. More medical care does not buy better health.
It’s time for our country to wake up. Our health, happiness, and economic stability are suffering at the hands of our dietary choices.
There were several additional non-nutritional factors that contributed to the relatively short life expectancy of Americans, including infant mortality rate, injuries and homicides, drug-related deaths, HIV and AIDS. In addition to disease-causing eating habits, behavioral factors such as drug abuse, lack of seat belt use, drunk driving and gun violence are contributing to the poor health and shorter lifespan of Americans. The report also cited deficits in our health care system, higher levels of poverty and income inequality than other countries, and geographical environments built around cars, which discourage physical activity.
Clearly, there are some issues not under our individual personal control that must be tackled by public policy. However, this report also highlights those factors that we as individuals can address – today – to increase our own likelihood for a long and healthy life: our weight and our risk for type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Excess weight, heart disease, and diabetes are inevitable consequences of the standard American diet plus inactivity, but they are not truly inevitable. We can prevent these conditions by making wiser food choices and prioritizing physical activity. Each of us must take responsibility for our own health and longevity. A high-nutrient diet based on protective plant foods is an excellent place to start.
Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. U.S. Health in International Perspective: Shorter Lives, Poorer Health. January 9, 2013. http://www.iom.edu/Reports/2013/US-Health-in-International-Perspective-Shorter-Lives-Poorer-Health.aspx