A major study reveals that while overall health has improved in the US, it still lags behind that of the other 34 countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published the study online today to coincide with an event at the White House that addresses the state of health in the US.
The investigation measures health data in the US from 1990 to 2010, including diseases, injuries and leading risk factors, and compares the measurements with those of other wealthy countries.
Among the results are statistics about cumulative life expectancy, which increased for both men and women in the US, from 75.2 years in 1990 to 78.2 years in 2010.
We might be living longer, but the study shows we are not living better: "Although life span has increased, rates of age-specific 'years lived with disability' have remained stable, and morbidity and chronic disability now account for nearly half of the health burden in the United States."
Improvements in overall health in the US have not kept up with improvements in other wealthy countries, according to researchers.
In 2010, diseases producing the most 'years lived with disability' (YLD) included back and neck pain, anxiety and depressive disorders, as well as other musculoskeletal disorders. In addition, the study reveals risk factors that most led to disabilities during the 20-year focus, including dietary risks, high blood pressure, physical inactivity, smoking and using alcohol.
How can the US improve healthcare?
The study concludes with recommendations for how the US can compete with its economic counterparts in the rest of the world.
Researchers note that routine investigations into burden of disease and corresponding information about health spending may give the US government an idea for where it could best focus resources. The researchers continue:
"The United States spends the most per capita on health care across all countries, lacks universal health coverage, and lags behind other high-income countries for life-expectancy and many other health outcome measures.
High costs with mediocre population health outcomes at the national level are compounded by marked disparities across communities, socioeconomic groups, and race and ethnicity groups."
Researchers note that quite a few resources have been used to find solutions for cardiovascular diseases and certain cancers, whereas the leading causes of disability in the study, such as morbidity and chronic disabilities, have not had as much attention. The study points to this lack of resource as a likely cause for why these disabilities now account for nearly half of the health burden in the US.
To improve the US healthcare system, researchers call for investments in public health programs and "multisectoral action" to handle the main risk factors mentioned in the study: physical activity, nutritional choices, pollution, and alcohol and tobacco use.
Dr. Harvey Fineberg, president of the Institute of Medicine, hopes leaders in both the private and public sector of the US can foster positive results after this study. Dr. Fineberg says:
"If all constituents do their parts, the apt subtitle for the next generation's analysis of US health will be not 'doing better and feeling worse, still,' but 'getting better faster than ever.'"