No Country For Young Men (Or Women)

Sabrina Tavernise of the New York Times has a disturbing story on a new report identifying the real source of the United State’s persistently poor rankings among developed countries in measurements of health and health care: young people.

The 378-page study by a panel of experts convened by the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council is the first to systematically compare death rates and health measures for people of all ages, including American youths. It went further than other studies in documenting the full range of causes of death, from diseases to accidents to violence. It was based on a broad review of mortality and health studies and statistics….

The panel called the pattern of higher rates of disease and shorter lives “the U.S. health disadvantage,” and said it was responsible for dragging the country to the bottom in terms of life expectancy over the past 30 years. American men ranked last in life expectancy among the 17 countries in the study, and American women ranked second to last.

The findings were stark. Deaths before age 50 accounted for about two-thirds of the difference in life expectancy between males in the United States and their counterparts in 16 other developed countries, and about one-third of the difference for females. The countries in the analysis included Canada, Japan, Australia, France, Germany and Spain.

A bit part of this sad picture comes from deaths by car accident and gun violence–i.e., plagues that don’t have that much to do with the health care system. But that’s not all:

The United States has the highest infant mortality rate among these countries, and its young people have the highest rates of sexually transmitted diseases, teen pregnancy and deaths from car crashes. Americans lose more years of life before age 50 to alcohol and drug abuse than people in any of the other countries.

Think our health care system–and for that matter, our thin and ragged social safety net–might have something to do with those findings? Yep.

The panel sought to explain the poor performance. It noted the United States has a highly fragmented health care system, with limited primary care resources and a large uninsured population. It has the highest rates of poverty among the countries studied.

Education also played a role. Americans who have not graduated from high school die from diabetes at three times the rate of those with some college, Dr. Woolf said. In the other countries, more generous social safety nets buffer families from the health consequences of poverty, the report said.

And still people wonder why younger Americans tend to be more politically liberal than older folk. For some, it is a bit of a survival issue.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.