Of the 17 richest countries in the world, the U.S. has the shortest life expectancy, and it is getting worse. This is according to a wonderful report that came out yesterday from the National Resource Council, called U.S. Health in International Perspective: Shorter Lives, Poorer Health.
Why this discrepancy compared to other rich countries? It turns out that our short life expectancy can be blamed, in no small part, on our kids.
Adolescents in the U.S. have the highest mortality rate of any peer country.
Compared to U.S. kids of previous generations, kids in the U.S. perform better academically, are less likely to abuse drugs, have healthier sexual habits and are less likely to engage in other delinquent behaviors.
However, compared to kids in other rich countries, kids in the U.S. are more likely to:
- Be obese (the number of overweight or obese 12 to 17 year-olds in the U.S. is twice the average of the other rich countries)
- Have HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases
- Be in a fatal accident
- Be murdered (15 to 19 year-old males in the U.S. are five times more likely to die a violent death than their counterparts in peer countries)
In other words, our kids are dying and it is bringing down the overall life expectancy of the U.S.
Those familiar with my work know that I typically evoke the ubiquitous British directive of “stay calm and carry on” when addressing news stories about our kids. I routinely rail against the Chicken Littles of the world, who are too quick to claim that the sky is falling every time some random, confused teenager licks a toad or makes a pop bottle explode. However, this study concerns me.
I am not sure what the immediate policy implications are. However, it seems worthwhile to use our view from the shining city on the hill to see how our neighbors are managing to raise healthier kids.