Statistics that show the United States ranking below other rich countries on health measures are often broadly attributed to the lack of public health resources and dangerous environments confronting Americans who are poor or members of minority groups. But while unequal access to health care remains a problem, a new report by the National Institutes of Health has a sobering message: Unhealthy and unsafe practices are leaving even well-off Americans with lower life-expectancies than their peers in other countries.
For example, the study found that white Americans at every age level below 55 have either the highest or second-highest death rates among the 17 wealthiest countries. “Even relatively well-off Americans who do not smoke and are not overweight may experience inferior health,” the report said. There are many explanations for this: The United States has the world’s highest calorie consumption, the highest firearms ownership among wealthy countries, relatively high levels of teen pregnancy, a large percentage of people who lack reliable health care, and a tendency to design physical environments for automobiles instead of activity. Americans also have high rates of sexually transmitted diseases, HIV/AIDS, car crashes, and drug and alcohol abuse.