The U.S. Health Report Card

The following is a list of some basic facts about the state of U.S. healthcare system and the subsequent health of Americans, courtesy of sources such as TIME and The Economist.

  • The U.S. spends more on healthcare than any other country, equaling 16% of our GDP. That’s several trillion dollars, considering that our total GDP is around 11 or 12 trillion. Healthcare is thus already big business, though it’s soon to get bigger: in 9 years, 20% of our economy will revolve around healthcare.
  • Most of that spending—about 30% or so—revolves around hospitals, followed by 21% for doctor and clinical services and 10% for prescription drugs (the remainder is split between nursing homes, administrative costs, etc). Like most rich countries, our population is aging, which will likely cause a rise in hospital and healthcare costs (especially as we’ll soon have slightly more old people than young; thankfully we’re not as bad as Western Europe or Japan, which will have close to 30% of their populations over 65)
  • Only about 10 or so states spend more than $6,000 per person to fund healthcare, leaving most states (including big ones like California, Texas, and Florida) spending comparatively little. Texas sees about 25% of its population without insurance. In fact, 32% of the 46.6 million uninsured, 32% are Hispanics and 8.1 million are children. That’s not including the under-insured…
  • Despite all that spending, we’re nowhere near the top 20 countries in terms of some health measurements. We rank 34th in terms of life expectancy (Japan, Switzerland, Australia, and Canada being the highest in that order) and 29th in infant mortality (deaths), on par with Poland and Slovakia (and not that far off from Cuba, which is far poorer and less well funded, despite popular belief). Demographically, Asian American women (88.8 years on average) are the longest lived while African-American men are shortest lived (69.4 years); in terms of infant mortality, African Americans, followed by Native and Puerto Rican Americans, grimly lead while Cuban Americans and Asians have the lowest rates. Also, Virginia has the highest life expectancy, while Kentucky has the lowest.
  • Close to 443,000 Americans still die every year thanks to tobacco-related illness. However, in terms of smoking we luckily don’t come anywhere near the top, our smoking rate having more than halved to just 19.8% (in the 60s more than half of men smoked and 40% of women). Greece, by comparison, has 51.8% of its population smoking, followed by Russia at 48%. In fact, most of Western Europe and Japan maintain higher rates of smoking, even though they all still have longer life expectancies and are generally healthier. How’s that so…?
  • Obesity. Studies in Sweden have confirmed that being overweight—particularly obese (being 30lbs or higher)—is more deadly than smoking. At least 67% of Americans are overweight; within this figure, 35% of American adults are obese as are 20% of 6 to 19 year-olds, and—sadly—15% of children 2 to 5). Black women lead the rates, with 52% of them being overweight, followed by 31% of black men and whites of both sexes. There’s a lot compounding this: about 40% of adults get no exercise and a huge 96% of us don’t eat enough fruits and veggies. In fact most of those that are overweight are actually malnourished; the food we’re eating gets us fat but provides little to no nutrition. Imagine and overweight American having the same nutritional health as a starving child in a third world country. This combination of no exercise, poor diet, and poor lifestyle in general is the biggest contributor to our death rate.
  • We’re making huge progress in terms of disease and tackling our Big Three: heart disease, cancer, and stroke. At least 29 years ago, 70% of all deaths were caused by either one of these: as of four years ago, only 50% of deaths were related to them. In 1980, 28% of Americans had high cholesterol: now only 17% do. Hypertension remains an issue though, with 27% of the population suffering from high blood pressure. Prostate cancer in men and breast in women are the most prevalent types to occur; luckily, 99% of men survive their cancer as do 91% of women. Lung, Pancreas, Ovarian, and Esophagus cancer are among the deadliest. As a whole though, 67% of cancer patients survive at least give years or more, up from 51% back in the 70s. As usual, Asian women (followed by Hispanic women close behind) are the least at risk of all of these, while black men are most susceptible. The reasons for this include culture (blacks generally have a poor diet), genetics (some ethnic groups are more susceptible to certain illnesses than other) and economics (many blacks are still poor, diluting their access to healthcare and drugs).
  • Annual preventable deaths per 100,000 thousand people: 110 in the U.S., compared to 65 in France, 71 in Japan and Australia, and 77 in Canada, with its much touted free healthcare system. France has been rated as having the best healthcare system in the world, followed by the usual suspects of Norway, Canada, Denmark, and Switzerland. The US ranks at around 39th, according to the WHO.

Conclusion: Basically, our remarkably expensive, well-stocked, and ultra-high tech healthcare industry is the only thing keeping us alive. If it wasn’t for all these pills and procedures, many of us Americans would’ve succumbed to our various lifestyle and dietary ills. Still, we are making progress in areas such as smoking and cholesterol at least: by far our biggest challenges lies in tackling what we eat and how we live. Much of what is still killing us—including the big three of cancer, stroke, and heart disease—can all be connected to poor diet, nutrition, and exercise. If we’re holding out this long on mostly just medicine alone, imagine how much longer we’d make it with a combination of both that and natural, healthy living!

However, our state of healthcare reflects another growing problem in America: disparities between rich and poor. As the income and wealth gaps grow, so too does that of healthcare. Is it any wonder that blacks, which are often the poorest Americans, have poorer health all around than Asians and Whites, who are among the richest? Most of the uninsured are unsurprisingly the most ill, and poor people in general—regardless of race—make up most of those with health problems.

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