Why do Americans have shorter life expectancies than others?

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Americans live shorter lives and are in generally worse health than citizens of other wealthy nations, according to an extensive report released Wednesday by the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine.

The analysis of international health data determined that American men had the lowest life expectancy among men in 17 countries, including wealthy European nations, Australia, Canada and Japan. U.S. women had the second-lowest life expectancy.

The study listed nine health areas in which Americans came in below average: infant mortality and low birth weight, injuries and homicides, adolescent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, HIV and AIDS, drug-related deaths, obesity and diabetes, heart disease, chronic lung disease and general disability.

Furthermore, even Americans who are white, insured, college-educated and upper-income are worse off than their counterparts around the world.

Interestingly, the new report places more stress on nonmedical shortcomings. For example, many people might be surprised to learn that for more than half the males who die before age 50, the cause of death has nothing to do with disease. Those causes include murder (19 percent of deaths in males under 50), traffic accidents (18 percent), other accidents (16 percent) and suicide (four percent). Only 35 percent are disease-related, and seven percent are other causes.

While these outcomes are worthy of serious evaluation, there is more to the problem than comes from a superficial perusal, says ACSH s Dr. Gilbert Ross. It cannot be ignored that America is a very heterogeneous society, unlike many other countries. We cannot simply compare and contrast our population to that of other nations without addressing the variety of populations that make up America. He adds, It goes without saying that a greater emphasis should be put on sex education and access to contraception to improve such items as teen pregnancy, STDs, and prematurity.

It is not all bad news though, the researchers also noted. The U.S. earned relatively high marks for its low cancer death rates and success in controlling blood pressure and cholesterol levels.