Why Americans Live Shorter and Get Sicker Than Other Rich Countries

There is a shocking reality about the health of Americans: Among the 17 wealthiest countries in the world, the United States consistently ranks at the bottom when it comes to health, with higher rates of obesity, chronic disease, and premature death.

This alarming finding comes from a comprehensive analysis of diseases, injuries, and behaviors at all ages. The study compared the United States with 16 other affluent democracies, such as Canada, Japan, Australia, and various Western European countries.

Let’s dive deeper into the nine key health areas where the United States ranks near the bottom compared to its global counterparts.

Infant mortality and low birth weight

The United States has consistently shown high rates of infant mortality and low birth weight. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. infant mortality rate is 5.8 deaths per 1,000 live births, which is higher than most developed countries.

Injuries and homicides

Americans are more injury-prone and have higher rates of homicides compared to other high-income countries. The CDC reports that injuries are the leading cause of death for Americans aged 1 to 44, and firearm-related injuries are a significant contributor to this statistic.

Teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases

The United States has the highest rates of teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases among developed countries. The CDC states that although teen birth rates have been falling, the rate remains higher than in other western industrialized nations.

Rates of HIV and AIDS

The United States has higher rates of HIV and AIDS compared to other developed countries. AIDS.gov states that approximately 1.2 million people in the United States were living with HIV at the end of 2018, and one in seven of them was unaware of their infection.

Drug-related deaths

Drug-related deaths are significantly higher in the United States compared to other wealthy countries. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that there were over 70,000 drug overdose deaths in the U.S. in 2019, two-thirds of which involved an opioid.

Diabetes and obesity

The United States has one of the highest rates of diabetes and obesity among developed nations. According to the CDC, over 42% of American adults are obese, and 34.2 million people are living with diabetes in the country.

Heart disease

Despite advances in medical care, heart disease remains the leading cause of death in the United States. The American Heart Association reports that nearly half of American adults have some form of cardiovascular disease, and someone dies of cardiovascular disease every 36 seconds.

Chronic lung disease

Chronic lung disease, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), is another significant health issue in the United States. According to the CDC, an estimated 16.4 million people in the country have been diagnosed with COPD, which is the third leading cause of death in the United States.


The United States also has high rates of disability compared to other wealthy nations. The CDC reports that 61 million American adults live with a disability, with mobility being the most common type, affecting one in seven adults.

With these alarming statistics, it is crucial for Americans to prioritize health and take action to improve their well-being. A combination of individual, community, and government efforts is required to address these pressing health challenges.

So, what can you do to improve your health and contribute to reversing this trend in the United States? Here are a few practical suggestions:

  1. Maintain a healthy diet and engage in regular physical activity to prevent obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
  2. Stay up-to-date on vaccinations and follow recommended health screenings to catch diseases early.
  3. Avoid risky behaviors, such as smoking, drug use, and excessive alcohol consumption.
  4. Practicing safe sex and getting regularly tested for sexually transmitted infections.
  5. Be proactive in seeking medical care when needed, and adhere to prescribed treatments and medications.
  6. Advocate for policies and initiatives that support public health, prevention, and access to healthcare for all.

While many factors contribute to the United States’ poor health rankings compared to other wealthy countries, taking steps towards a healthier lifestyle and advocating for systemic change can ultimately make a difference and improve the health of our nation.