Major Study Paints Picture Of America's Health System -- And It's Not Pretty

Americans' obesity is a factor.
Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA Wire
So you assume Americans are the healthiest people in the free world? Not so fast, Charlie. The annual OECD Health at a Glance report for 2015 found:
1. The U.S. still leads in per capita health spending.

Although U.S. health-spending growth has slowed down in recent years, it was still 2.5 times greater than the OECD average in 2013. The United States spends about $8,713 per person, by far the most of any country in the world. Other countries, including Turkey and India, spend less than $1,000 on health care per person annually.

2. Life expectancy in the U.S. is lower than in most other OECD countries.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development report attributed this to the inconsistency of the U.S. health system and poor health-related behaviors. For example, the percentage of adults who smoke in the United States is among the lowest in OECD countries, but alcohol consumption is rising and the U.S. obesity rate is the highest.
There is now a gap of almost two years between life expectancy at birth in the United States compared with the average in the other OECD countries (78.8 years in the U.S .in 2013 compared with 80.5 years for the OECD average). In 1970, the life expectancy in the United States was one year above the OECD average, so the gap has widened, the study found.
3. Actually, the life expectancy gap has really widened for the U.S.
The life expectancy for U.S. men in 2013 was 4.3 years shorter than in Switzerland (up from less than 3 years in 1970); for U.S. women, it was 5.4 years shorter than in Japan in 2013 (there was no gap in 1970).
4. Some bad habits die hard.
While the smoking rate in the U.S. has dropped from 33.5 percent in 1980 to 14 percent in 2013 and is now among the lowest in OECD countries, we haven't done quite so well on reducing obesity. Obesity rates among adults in the United States are the highest among OECD countries, with 35 percent of adults being obese, said the report. Obesity is found to be highest in low-educated groups, especially women. Obesity is a known risk factor for many health problems including heart disease and diabetes.
By contrast with many other OECD countries, overall alcohol consumption per adult in the United States has gone up since 2000. Alcohol consumption per capita in the United States was more than 10 percent less than the OECD average in 2000, it is now equal to the OECD average -- 8.8 liters of pure alcohol consumption per adult in 2013. Governments use a range of policies to tackle harmful alcohol use, including beefing up enforcement of drink-and-driving laws and raising taxes on the purchase of alcoholic drinks.
5. Within the OECD countries, the delivery of health care is inconsistent.

The United States does a great job of providing acute care for people having a heart attack or a stroke and preventing them from dying. But it performs less well in preventing avoidable hospital admissions for people with chronic conditions, such as diabetes and asthma. The opposite is true for Switzerland, Spain and Portugal, which have low rates of hospital admissions for chronic conditions but high mortality rates for patients who suffer from a heart attack or stroke.

Finland and Sweden do relatively well in saving the lives of people with cervical, breast or colorectal cancer, but the survival rates for these cancers are lower in Chile, Poland, the Czech Republic, the United Kingdom and Ireland.

6. The use of anti-depressants has nearly doubled since 2000.

The report says that the consumption of antidepressants has grown quickly since 2000, nearly doubling on average across OECD countries. It adds, "There is evidence in several countries where consumption is high, such as Australia and the United Kingdom, that there is some over-prescription." At the same time, it suggests that anti-depressants consumption may need to increase in others, such as Korea and Estonia.
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