- American life expectancy is lower than that of the Western Europeans and Canadians, despite our spending twice as much money on health care.
- Infant mortality rates in the U.S. are higher than in most other developed countries.
I am very grateful that Marie-Josee Kravis, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, has looked into this and thought it through. She wrote a great Ideas & Opinions piece in the 21 September 2009 issue of Forbes called Life Expectancy Humbug - We're getting a lot of sophistry connecting health care to life spans. To boil it down:
- If you reach 65, Americans have a longer life expectancy than Britons and Germans.
- Life expectancy depends upon diet and lifestyle as well as health care.
- American road fatalities are among the highest in the developed world. We drive more among other things.
- Our homicide rate is 10 times that of the U.K.
- 32.2% of Americans are obese, while in Japan it is 3%, France 9.5%, Germany 13.6%, Canada 18%, Australia 21.7%, according to the OECD. Obesity accounts for 10% of health costs in the U.S., but only from 2 to 3.5% in Canada. Obese Americans spend 36% more for health care and 77% more for medications than people of normal weight. Diabetes is 20 times more likely for them, heart disease 2.5 times more likely, and cancer, hypertension, and asthma are twice as likely.
She says that the quality of the health care available should be judged based upon the survival rate outcomes for illnesses, rather than life expectancy. She notes:
- U.S. mortality rates for all cancers are 166.3 per 100,000, while the OECD countries average 171, Canada is 173.2, France is 170.2, and U.K. is 175.6.
- Lancet Oncology found that Americans have lower mortality rates for 13 of the 16 most common forms of cancer.
I looked up a few other statistics of interest:
- The U.S. heart disease death rate is 106.5 per 100,000, with the U.K. at 122, Australia at 110.9, Sweden at 110.1, Germany 106.1, Canada 94.9, Netherlands at 75.1, France 39.8, and Japan at 30. The low French and Japanese death rates make it clear that these rates are not simply related to the quality of the health care system.
- The percentage of road deaths and firearms deaths both are maximal in the 15 to 24 year old age group in the U.S., which explains why these causes of death decrease American life expectancies so much.
- Life expectancy is also a function of dangerous careers. A nation with more fishermen, lumberjacks, and pilots and flight engineers, will tend to have a shorter life expectancy.
- Life expectancy will be shortened in a nation with a larger transportation industry, construction industry, and more warehousing, agriculture, and hunting.