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LIFELONG HEALTH- U.S. Comes up Short in Study of Health, Life Span PDF Print E-mail
Written by Dr. David Lipschitz   
Thursday, 07 February 2013 04:51

A report published by the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine shows that we are the unhealthiest developed nation in the world.

In a study of millions of people, mortalities for the United States were compared to Australia, Canada, Japan and western European countries.

Americans got the worst rankings in life expectancy and incidence of disease, irrespective of socioeconomic factors, access to insurance, sex or ethnic group. Only Americans over age 75 had a higher survival rate than their peers in the other countries.

The report shows that we rank worst in infant mortality, injuries and murders (particularly gun-related deaths), along with teenage pregnancies, the prevalence of HIV and AIDS, substance abuse and drugrelated deaths, diabetes, obesity, heart disease and stroke and long-term disability.

First, let me say with absolute passion that I would rather be an unhealthy American than live in any other country. It's the land of boundless opportunity, freedom and potential for success; no wonder everyone wants to immigrate here.

So how can we explain the fact that we are so unhealthy, despite having more health care resources than any other nation and more funding spent on health than anywhere else? Perhaps it is our commitment to freedom and self-determination that is the root of this problem. We are free to succeed, but if we don't, we are on our own, and there is not an adequate safety net to meet the needs of our population.

Furthermore, our health care system is driven largely by high technology and acute care — with a strong bottom line focus. While there may be change in the future, we pay scant attention to health education, prevention and early detection of disease.

Receiving adequate primary care is becoming more difficult: Many physicians will not see Medicare patients, and resources for the care of patients with chronic diseases are paltry.

For teens and young adults, murders and motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death. Random acts of violence, teens with ready access to guns and the virtual prohibition of any research efforts to understand the breadth and depth of teen violence in general or gun violence in particular are inexplicable. Without a true understanding of the root causes, strategies to resolve the problem are difficult to achieve.

For individuals of all ages, socioeconomic factors and lack of access to health care contribute substantially to ill health as well as to the inordinate cost of treating uninsured individuals who receive care when their illness is advanced and in the most expensive setting — the emergency room.

Evidence is slowly emerging that Medicaid expansion will not be the huge financial burden many states suspect but an economic bonanza leading to a healthier population, less-costly care and more job creation. But even among the most affluent, college-educated and well-insured population, this report finds poorer health outlook. For the rich, those annual "executive" physicals (intensive and wide-ranging, but with high out-of-pocket expense) that aim to identify and treat disease early are not of great benefit. Clearly, access to the highest quality acute care, at enormous cost, is not achieving our goal of a healthy population. In responding to this report, many experts in the field lay the blame on the individual who chooses not to live the most healthful of lifestyles, eating the wrong foods in excess, being too sedentary and living under a great deal of stress in the workplace and at home.

There is general consensus that improving the health and well being of Americans is complex and multifactorial. Lack of insurance leading to an inability to access care, economic disparities and lack of gainful employment all take a huge toll on the millions who live close to or just above the poverty line.

Here obesity, sedentary lifestyle and poor health habits are paradoxically the highest. It is cheaper to buy unwholesome foods, incentives to exercise are small, and smoking and alcohol consumption are too high. And for those Americans who are blessed with everything, their health care must turn away from the treatment of acute and chronic illness to lifestyle changes that help assure a happy, physically active and appropriately nourished population. This will allow us to live lives in which risk of illness is reduced, saving us financially and allowing us to compete on an even playing field with other nations whose approaches to health and well being are so much more successful than ours.

Dr. David Lipschitz is the author of the book "Breaking the Rules of Aging." To find out more about Dr. David Lipschitz visit

Last Updated on Thursday, 07 February 2013 04:56