The biggest risks in the U.S. are posed by violence, alcoholism, and obesity even as the rest of the world isn’t doing much better.
Scandinavian social democracies invariably get a chance to show their quiet dominance in every study ranking nations by health or living standards. And it is no different for a new analysis published this week—perhaps the most comprehensive ever.
According to a report published in the Lancet, as world leaders when it comes to health goals set by the United Nations, Iceland and Sweden share the top slot with Singapore. More than 1,870 researchers in 124 countries compiled data on 33 different indicators of progress toward the UN goals related to health using the UN’s sustainable development goals as guideposts, which measure the obvious (poverty, clean water, education) and less obvious (societal inequality, industry innovation).
A decade long collaboration focused on the worldwide distribution of disease formed the basis of the massive study. Survival may be the single most ambitious undertaking humans have ever committed themselves to and about a year and a half ago, the researchers involved decided their data might help measure progress on that aspect. And their findings were disturbing. Ranked between Japan and Estonia, the country with the biggest economy (not to mention, if we’re talking about health, multibillion-dollar health-food and fitness industries) ranks No. 28 overall.
Data obtained on dozens of topics from all over the world were scrubbed through by the research team. For example, the research team looked at public surveys, records of pharmaceutical manufacturers, and administrative records of inoculations to make sure they had adequate data on vaccine coverage for each region.
“We don’t necessarily believe what everybody says. There are so many ways they can miss people or be biased,” says Christopher Murray, global heath professor at the University of Washington and a lead author of the study.
In water, sanitation, and child development, the U.S. scores its highest marks. A heavy toll on America’s overall ranking was taken by interpersonal violence (think gun crime) unsurprisingly. In the U.S., issues like response to natural disasters, HIV, suicide, obesity, and alcohol abuse all require attention, says the report.
America doesn’t perform as well on as other developed countries are basic public health metrics and this is a noteworthy point. The U.S. is No. 40 when it comes to the rate children under age five die and No. 64 in the rate of mothers dying for every 100,000 births.
“The U.S. isn’t doing as well as it perhaps should compared with some countries in Western Europe,” Murray said.
The study shows that the problem of overweight children has grown worse in all regions of the world and across the economic development spectrum.
Five countries in particular were lauded by the authors for prominent gains, one from each quintile. While Tajikistan reformed its health system in the late 1990s and is winning a battle against malaria, Timor-Leste rebuilt its health service since 2000 after years of war. On the other hand, Taiwan enacted road-safety laws that reduced auto-related deaths there while Colombia’s health insurance program reaches more people than ever and covers more scenarios, including cancer and Iceland, which barely edges out Singapore and Sweden for the No. 1 spot, is credited for aggressive anti-tobacco policies and its publicly funded universal health-care system.
(Adapted from Bloomberg)