The United States is falling behind its economic peers in most measures of health, despite making gains in the past two decades, according to a sweeping study of data from 34 countries.
Although Americans are living longer, with overall US life expectancy increasing to 78.2 in 2010 from 75.2 in 1990, increases in psychiatric disorders, substance abuse and conditions that cause back, muscle and joint pain mean many do not feel well enough to enjoy those added years of life.
Despite a level of health expenditures that would have seemed unthinkable a generation ago, the health of the US population has improved only gradually and has fallen behind the pace of progress in many other wealthy nations, Dr. Harvey Fineberg of the Institute of Medicine in Washington, D.C., wrote in an editorial published this week with the study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The study by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington in Seattle is the first comprehensive analysis of disease burden in the United States in more than 15 years. It includes estimates for death and disability from 291 diseases, conditions, and injuries as well as 67 risk factors.
It is one of three new papers by the institute being released simultaneously at the request of first lady Michelle Obama, who plans to present the findings to mayors of US cities in an invitation-only event at the White House as part of her campaign to improve the nation's health.
They add to a growing pile of research showing that despite lavish spending on healthcare in the United States, Americans are failing to make significant gains in many measures of overall health.
In a 2010 report by the non-profit Commonwealth Fund, the United States, despite spending twice as much on healthcare, came in dead last compared with six peers - Britain, Canada, Germany, Netherlands, Australia and New Zealand.