U.S. Falls Behind Slovenia in Latest Review of Population Health

Americans are dying sooner and living with more illness than residents of Slovenia and other less prosperous countries, according to the latest study showing the U.S. is getting a poor return on money it spends on care.

Americans lost more years of life to heart disease, lung cancer, preterm birth complications, diabetes and at least 21 other conditions in 2010 than most other members of the 34-country Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The study, released today in the Journal of the American Medical Association, measured disease and risk factors in the U.S. from 1990 to 2010.

The U.S. failed to keep up with other nations in improving population health over the two decades despite spending the most per capita on health care, the study said. The U.S. death rate, after being standardized by age, fell to 27th in 2010 from 18th in 1990. Citizens of poorer countries that spend less on health services, including Chile, Portugal, Slovenia, and South Korea, had lower mortality rates than Americans.

“Despite a level of health expenditures that would have seemed unthinkable a generation ago, the health of the U.S. population has improved only gradually and has fallen behind the pace of progress in many other wealthy nations,” wrote Harvey V. Fineberg, president of the Institute of Medicine in Washington, in an accompanying editorial.

The study compared mortality rates from 291 diseases across the OECD countries. While the average life expectancy in the U.S. rose to 78.2 years in 2010 from 75.2 years two decades earlier, its rank among the 34 countries fell to 27th from 20th.

Drug use disorders in the U.S. increased 85 percent over the two decades, placing Americans at the top of the list for lost years of life due to poisonings. The disorder replaced low neck pain as the only addition to the top 10 causes of years lost to death or disability.

Heart disease remained the largest culprit for lost healthy years of Americans. Time lost due to HIV/AIDS fell 61 percent in the U.S. during the period.

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