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U.S. life expectancy challenged despite healthcare spending: report

January 7, 2014
by Lois A. Bowers, Senior Editor
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Life expectancy in the United States is now lower than the average life expectancy of all countries measured by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a Paris-based group promoting policies to improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world.

Life expectancy in the United States as of 2011 was 78.7 years, according to the OECD’s new report, Health at a Glance 2013. Although this is an increase of 8 years since 1970, OECD counties averaged a 10-year gain in life expectancy during that time, and the average life expectancy of all OECD countries is now 80.1 years.

The difference in U.S life expectancy and life expectancy in other leading countries has grown, too, the report authors note. Life expectancy for U.S. men is 4.2 years shorter than it is for men in Switzerland; the difference in 1970 was 3 years. U.S. women have a life expectancy that is 4.8 years shorter than it is for Japanese woman; in 1970, no difference existed between women in the two countries.

“The relatively low life expectancy of Americans is particularly striking given how much they spend on their healthcare,” the researchers note.

Higher health-related spending per capita usually is associated with lower mortality rates and higher life expectancy, the report notes, but the United States spends 2.5 times more per capita on healthcare than the OECD average—and 50 percent more than Norway and Switzerland, the countries that spend the most after the United States—and does not see such benefits.

The trend may be changing, however. A U.S. government report issued yesterday indicates that overall national health expenditures grew at an annual rate of 3.7 percent in 2012, marking the fourth consecutive year of low growth. Health spending as a share of gross domestic product fell slightly from 17.3 percent in 2011 to 17.2 percent in 2012.

Other OECD report highlights:

  • Screening and survival rates for several types of cancer are higher in the United States than they are in most other developed countries.
  • The United States performs poorly at preventing hospital admissions for chronic conditions such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and diabetes.
  • The obesity rate among U.S. adults is the highest of all OECD countries. In 2000, it was 30.7 percent, and in 2010, it was 36.5 percent, more than twice as high as the OECD average. (The organization notes that this information is self-reported, however.)

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