Comparisons of U.S. death rates: apples and oranges?

U.S. life expectancy at birth is among the lowest of all high-income countries. While analysis of the reasons for this unpleasant reality are complex, one example of the recent research into possible explanations showed that the lower life expectancy was largely due to premature deaths of those age 50 and younger compared to their counterparts in other industrialized nations.

"Using cross-national mortality data to identify the key age groups and causes of death responsible for these shortfalls, I found that mortality differences of those below age 50 accounted for two-thirds of the gap in life expectancy at birth between American males and their counterparts in 16 comparison countries," Jessica Y. Ho, a doctoral candidate in demography and sociology at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, said in a statement. "Among females, the figure was two-fifths."

Ho compared mortality data obtained from the Human Mortality Database at the University of California Berkeley and the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Germany, from 2006 to 2008 in 16 high-income countries mostly western European nations, along with Australia, Canada, and Japan.

The data showed that a major contributor to deaths below age 50 were from drug overdoses 64 percent of deaths before age 50 were from accidental poisoning and among those, 91 percent were drug overdoses.

The major causes of death for those 50 and younger are unintentional injuries, drug overdose, non-communicable diseases and homicide. The findings were published in the journal Health Affairs.

ACSH s Dr. Gilbert Ross noted, This is just one among many examples of wealth and longevity comparisons between us and other wealthy nations that is invalid, at least as far as assigning blame to one or another aspect of our healthcare system. Our country is so diverse and subject to factors less often encountered in European nations, such as drug overdoses and motor vehicle accidents, that the simplistic ideas of how to fix us do not really apply.