Sunday, September 19, 2004

Lifespan Crisis Hits America

Recommended reading for those of you also going into the healthcare field:

OBSERVER - Bloated, blue-collar Americans - gorged on diets of fries and burgers, but denied their share of US riches - are bringing the nation's steady rise in life expectancy to a grinding halt. Twenty years ago, the US, the richest nation on the planet, led the world's longevity league. Today, American women rank only 19th, while males can manage only 28th place, alongside men from Brunei.

These startling figures are blamed by researchers on two key factors: obesity, and inequality of health care. A man born in a poor area of Washington can have a life expectancy that is 40 years less than a woman in a prosperous neighbourhood only a few blocks away, for example.

'A look at the Americans' health reveals astonishing inequalities in our society,' state Professor Lawrence Jacobs of Minnesota University and Professor James Morone, of Brown University, Rhode Island, in the journal American Prospect .

Their paper is one of a recent swathe of studies that have uncovered a shocking truth: America, once the home of the world's best-fed, longest-lived people, is now a divided nation made up of a rich elite and a large underclass of poor, ill-fed, often obese, men and women who are dying early...

Indeed, America only just scrapes above Mexico and most East European nations. This decline is astonishing given America's wealth. Not only is it Earth's richest nation, it devotes more gross domestic product - 13 per cent - to health care than any other developed nation. Switzerland comes next with 10 per cent; Britain spends 7 per cent. As the Boston group - Alicia Munnell, Robert Hatch and James Lee - point out: 'The richer a country is, the more resources it can dedicate to education, medical and other goods and services associated with great longevity.' The result in every other developed country has been an unbroken rise in life expectancy since 1960. But this formula no longer applies to America, where life expectancy's rise has slowed but not yet stopped, because resources are now so unevenly distributed.

Jacobs and Morone state: 'Check-ups, screenings and vaccinations save lives, improve well-being, and are shockingly uneven [in America]. Well-insured people get assigned hospital beds; the uninsured get patched up and sent back to the streets.' For poor Americans, health service provision is little better than that in third world nations. 'People die younger in Harlem than in Bangladesh.'

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