U.S. Falls Behind Other Developed Countries In Life Expectancy

By Dr. Sawraj Singh

In a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. came much behind 12 other developed countries. These countries included Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the U.K. Among men, the life expectancy in 2012 was 76.4 years in the U.S., compared to 78.6 years in the other countries. For women, the figures were 81.2 years for the U.S., compared to 83.4 years in the other developed countries. The study showed that injuries including violence, vehicle collisions, drug poisoning and drug overdoses are the leading causes of death. For example, Americans are 10 times more likely to die as a result of a firearm compared to the other developed countries which were included in the study.

However, violence and crime are not the only reason for the shorter life expectancy in the US. I feel even a bigger reason is the poor quality of health compared to the other developed countries. There are many studies available which compared the quality of healthcare in the US with other developed countries, and each study showed that the U.S. lags behind all of the other developed countries. There was a study comparing the health care of Americans with British people (Banks et al, 2006). IT was a very extensive study that compared the health of all classes of people based upon their social, economic, and educational status. The results showed that even the poor and least educated people in England had better health than the educated and well-off people in the U.S. Another study compared the health of Americans with their Northern neighbors, the Canadians (Sanmartin et al, 2006) (Feeny et al, 2010). Just like the British people, the Canadians were found to be in better health than the Americans. Still, another study compared the health of the Americans to the people from other developed countries and the Americans were behind all of the developed countries in that study.

I feel the main reason for America lagging behind the other developed countries in the field of healthcare is the widening gap of wealth. There are studies which show that the widening gap of wealth in a society leads to poor health care (Pritchard&Wallace, 2011). America continues to have more concentration of wealth in few hands and the gap between the haves and the have-nots is constantly widening.

I also feel that consumerism adversely affects health and may be responsible for shorter life expectancy. American capitalism is fundamentally different than the European, Canadian and Japanese models of capitalism. American capitalism can be called consumerist capitalism, whereas other countries have utilitarian capitalism. American capitalism only emphasizes making money (profit) and the purpose of life is mainly limited to acquiring material comforts. There is very little social concern. Everybody is concentrated on him or herself and is primarily concerned with their survival. They have very little time or motivation to see how others are doing. The people in other developed countries are less individualistic, less self-centered, and are more socially aware and concerned.

Racism is also playing a significant role in the poor health, increased violence and shorter life expectancy in the U.S.  The white majority in the U.S. has never accepted multiculturalism and pluralism. They have seen the multicultural society as a liability rather than an asset. We can compare the attitude of the American society to the Canadian society.

Multiculturalism and pluralism are much more acceptable in Canada now than in America. At least, it has been an official policy of the Canadian government to promote multiculturalism. There are many studies available in the U.S. which show that the health of minorities, particularly Blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans, is much worse than Whites. Asian Americans, particularly Indians, generally do not associate themselves with other minority groups. The main reason for this is that Asian Americans are better educated and have higher income than other minorities.

Even among Asians, Indians are the most devoted followers of American consumerism. Still another reason for Indians to be treated differently in America than other minorities could be that America wants to use India against China and become the sacrificial lamb. Whatever the reasons for Indians in western capitalist countries to become the strongest advocates and admirers of consumerism may be, the end result is that they are paying with their health. There are many studies which show that they are one of the communities with comparatively poor health.

Dr. Sawraj Singh, MD F.I.C.S. is the Chairman of the Washington State Network for Human Rights and Chairman of the Central Washington Coalition for Social Justice. He can be reached at sawrajsingh@hotmail.com.

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