The United States of America is the land of opportunity. It’s among the wealthiest nations in the world. There are people from everywhere that desire to migrate to the United States with hopes of a better tomorrow. Despite the opportunities that exist here, when it comes to health Americans aren’t so fortunate.
For many years, Americans have been dying at younger ages than people in almost all other high-income countries. During the past three decades, these numbers have been getting worse, especially among women. It can’t be denied that there has been some improvements in life expectancy and health in the United States over the years, but those gains pale in comparison to other high income countries.
Why is this? The National Institutes of Health (NIH) had the same question. They asked the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine to investigate the reasons behind this and to evaluate the potential implications these health disadvantages could cause.
Their report, “U.S. Health in International Perspective: Shorter Lives, Poorer Health,” was published in the “Institute of Medicine of the National Academies” in January 2013. The results were staggering.
Apart from just dying younger, Americans have a pattern of poor health that is consistent and pervasive during the course of a life.
The report compared U.S. data with statistics from 16 “peer” countries and other high-income democracies in Western Europe, Canada, Australia and Japan. The data found that the U.S. health disadvantages span many types of illness and injury. There are at least nine health areas where Americans, as a group, are far worse than other countries. Those areas include:
Many of the above conditions have a great impact on young people. This reduces the odds that Americans will live to be 50. It also suggests that for those who do reach 50, they’ll experience poorer health and greater illness later in life.
What makes this so more perplexing is that the United States spends more per person on health care than any other nation. The report didn’t fully explain the source for or reason behind the health disadvantages in the United States. What it did find was that there are likely multiple factors that can be attributed to these statistics. Those following factors were listed as reasons behind Americans’ poor health.
Health Systems - The United States has a large population of uninsured people, unlike its peer countries. This also means that more Americans have limited access to primary care.
Health behaviors – Americans are less likely to smoke and may drink less than people in peer countries, but they consume the most calories per person, have higher rates of drug abuse, are less likely to use seat belts, are involved in more traffic accidents that involve alcohol and are more likely to use firearms in acts of violence.
Social and economic conditions – The income of Americans may be higher on average than those in other countries, but the United States also has higher levels of poverty, especially child poverty. It also has higher levels of income inequality. Another area where the United States is lacking is the country’s emphasis on education compared to other wealthy nations. This also impacts health.
Physical Environments – Communities in the United States are more likely than the other countries to be designed around automobiles, which can eliminate the need for physical activity. This can also contribute to obesity.
Another outstanding point made in the study is that even Americans who don’t smoke and are not overweight still have higher rates of disease than those in similar groups in other per countries.
By now you may be wondering, so what can I do to help change these depressing statistics? Being informed is a major step in the right direction.
If you’re reading our health blog, you’re most likely already aware of some deficiencies in the U.S. health care system, but what you and many others may be surprised to learn is that you and your children are, on average, in worse health than people in other high-income countries, according to the report.
The report also suggests that the NIH or a similar entity should commission a study of policies that countries with superior health have found useful and that may be helpful for the United States.
More than anything the study is proof that good health and a better life is out there. People in other countries have it. More people in America need to make changes to enhance their life rather than relying on doctors and medicine to do it for them.
The good news is there are things you can start doing today to help improve your health and change your life despite what these statistics say.
Here are 5 things you can start doing today to help improve your health and overall well being.
Eat healthy: This sounds simple enough, but with all the headlines and news stories out there it’s sometimes hard to know what’s really good to eat anymore. Basically it boils down to this: Eat a plant-based diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, according to the Harvard School of Public Health. Choose foods with healthy fats, like olive oil, nuts and fatty fish; limit red meat and foods that are high in saturated fats and avoid foods that contain trans fats.
Limit processed foods: These contain many hidden ingredients and genetically engineered (GE) foods that can have countless negative effects on your health. Instead of purchasing everything pre-made like sauces, salad dressing and frozen dinners. Start with raw ingredients and make your food at home.
Limit sugary drinks: Many times juices and other seemingly healthy drinks are packed with sugar and other unhealthy ingredients, like excessive amounts of sodium. If you’re drink says no sugar or sugar-free that can make it even worse because it most likely contains aspartame, another GE byproduct. Look at the labels of your drinks. Limit anything very high in sugar. It’s also best to avoid or limit, if you really can’t resist, anything with many processed ingredients. One fool-safe plan you can always rely on is to drink water. It’s calorie-free, your body needs water to survive.
Get enough sleep: Most people don’t get enough sleep. Sleep is important because it enables your body to have optimal performance. According to the Sleep Foundation , not getting enough sleep can result in: an increased risk of motor accidents, increase in body mass index, increased risk of diabetes and heart problems, increased risk for psychiatric conditions (depression and substance abuse) and decreased ability to pay attention, react to signals or remember new information. The exact number of hours you need varies between individuals, but the Sleep Foundation recommends that adults get between 7 – 9 hours of sleep a night.
Consider taking a multi-vitamin: Many health professional recommend taking a multivitamin. Even by eating the best diet, you can still fall short of the more than 40 nutrients you need each day, according to an article on WebMD. Most Americans don’t meet dietary recommendations with just their diet, and taking a multivitamin can fill in small nutritional gaps. This is especially important if you’re on a strict diet or avoid certain foods for other health or social reasons. According to the American Dietetic Association, you would benefit from a once-daily multivitamin if your diet eliminates who food groups or you don’t eat enough variety of foods.
Get active: Unless you’re already really physically fit, you can probably afford to add some more exercise into your day. According to the Mayo Clinic and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention adults need about 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (brisk walking) every week and strength training two or more days a week or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity (jogging, running, etc.) exercise a week and two or days a week of strength training. Whether you get this at the gym or by making little changes in your day like taking the steps or parking further away from your office building, getting in some exercise is an important part of good health.
It’s time to take control of your health and to start living a better tomorrow. Do you have some health tips on ways to beat the bad health odds? Please feel free to share your tips and comments below.