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U.S. health lags far behind peer nations, study says

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By The Los Angeles Times
Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013, 6:24 p.m.

LOS ANGELES -- Americans live shorter lives and are in generally worse health than citizens of other wealthy nations, according to an extensive report released Wednesday by the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine.

The analysis of international health data determined that American men had the lowest life expectancy among men in 17 countries, including wealthy European nations, Australia, Canada and Japan. U.S. women had the second-lowest life expectancy. Only Danish women fared worse.

The study listed nine health areas in which Americans came in below average: infant mortality and low birth weight; injuries and homicides; adolescent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections; HIV and AIDS; drug-related deaths; obesity and diabetes; heart disease; chronic lung disease; and disability.

The United States earned relatively high marks for its low cancer death rates and success controlling blood pressure and cholesterol levels, the researchers said. But by and large, said panel chair Steven H. Woolf on Wednesday, the team was “struck by the gravity of our findings,” which spanned the population.

Gun use emerged as a factor: Americans were seven times more likely to die in a homicide and 20 times more likely to die in a shooting than their peers. In all, two-thirds of the mortality disadvantage for American men was attributable to people younger than 50 — and slightly over half of that resulted from injuries, said study collaborator Samuel Preston, a sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania.

It is possible that there's something about American culture, and the high value it places on individualism and personal autonomy, that results in its poor performance, the researchers noted.

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