Poverty linked to ill-health in USA

The US population has worse health than comparable 'rich' countries, according to a new report. Overall poverty and child poverty are especially plausible explanations, it says, for the 'pervasive US health disadvantage' across multiple causes of illness, unhealthy behaviours, and mortality during the first three or possibly four decades of life.

Key points

  • Among affluent countries, the US is at or near the bottom in nine key areas of health: infant mortality and low birth weight; injuries and homicides; teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections; prevalence of HIV and AIDS; drug-related deaths; obesity and diabetes; heart disease; chronic lung disease; and disability.
  • Many of these health conditions disproportionately affect children and adolescents. The US has the highest infant mortality rate of any high-income country, and it also ranks poorly on premature birth and the proportion of children who live to age five. US adolescents have higher rates of death from traffic accidents and murder, the highest rates of teenage pregnancy, and are more likely to acquire sexually transmitted infections.
  • This health disadvantage exists even though the US spends more per capita on healthcare than any other nation. Although flaws in the healthcare system may contribute to poorer health, many factors are responsible for the nation's health disadvantage.
  • Americans are more likely to engage in certain unhealthy behaviours, from over-eating to behaviours that increase the risk of fatal injuries. The US also has relatively high rates of poverty and income inequality and lags behind other countries in the education of young people.
  • However, the US health disadvantage does not solely reflect serious health disadvantages concentrated among poor or uninsured people or ethnic and racial minorities. Americans still fare worse than other countries even when the analysis is limited, for example, to people with relatively high incomes.

Source: Steven Woolf and Laudan Aron (eds), U.S. Health in International Perspective: Shorter Lives, Poorer Health, National Academies Press
LinksReport | NAP press release