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The United States Spends a Ton on Healthcare, but Its Health Is Really Poor

Beth Bradford

2/6/23, 1:44 PM

This new study shows that skyrocketing healthcare costs don't mean much when we lead other nations in poor health outcomes.

Despite the United States spending 18% of its gross domestic product (GDP) on healthcare, it has one of the worst health outcomes among high-income countries, according to a report from The Commonwealth Fund. Americans have a life expectancy of 77 years, compared to 81 in Germany, which spends 13% of its GDP on healthcare. France spends 12% and has a life expectancy of 82.5.

The United States also leads other high-income countries in infant deaths and maternal mortality from childbirth complications. Deaths from assault--particularly gun violence--is seven times higher in the U.S. in every other nation aside from New Zealand. However, New Zealand only had 1.3 deaths per 100,000. Also, while suicide is not highest in the U.S., it is third behind South Korea and Japan. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers suicide to be a serious health problem.

The report also found that the U.S. leads all nations with people over 65 getting their flu vaccinations, ranks second in breast and colorectal cancer screenings, but lags behind in COVID-19 vaccinations and has the highest COVID death rate.

Avoidable deaths in the U.S. have been increasing since 2015; this could be attributed to a high obesity rate (42.8%) and lack of exercise (about 25% getting no physical activity). Nearly 60% of calorie intake of people in the U.S. comes from ultra-processed foods with added sugars (via BMJ Open). This can lead to obesity and chronic disease according to Harvard School of Public Health. JAMA Internal Medicine found that added sugar is linked to cardiovascular disease.

To improve its health outcomes, The Commonwealth Fund suggested making health coverage more affordable along with reducing prices for health services. It also suggested more effort should be made to manage preventable health conditions.

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