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America, home of the sick and the fat

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I’m a pretty proud American in a lot of measures. But there’s a new report that makes me feel a little less so.

According to this new study out this week — sought by the U.S. government’s National Institutes of Health — the United States spends more per person on health care than any other wealthy nation, but lags behind on most important health measures. The report further tells us what we have already suspected: We Americans on average die younger than people in other rich countries and are in poorer health for much of their lives.

Americans overall fared the worst among the countries in the report when it came to nine (that’s right, nine) areas: infant mortality; injury and homicide rates; teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases; HIV infection and AIDS; drug abuse; obesity and diabetes; heart disease; lung disease; and disabilities.

Every year our position falls further behind. That’s not just sad, it’s unacceptable.

Even more so? Researchers said they can’t pinpoint a single factor to fully explain the U.S. health disadvantage.

Of course, some aren’t so hard to figure: There’s a number of contributing factors to the problems, some that has to do with our health care system overall — notably the amount of money we spend on care, yet little results we see — and others that has to do with ourselves.

The report comes on the heels of important research on obesity in America: Few Americans know all the risks of the rising epidemic. That also mirrors new Aon Hewitt research that finds that the majority of employees think they are healthier than they really are.

“Employees want to be healthy, but many have an overly rosy perception of their health and may not see an urgent need to take action,” says Joann Hall Swenson, a health engagement leader at Aon Hewitt.

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Though we’re a society that hates to be told what to do, in some factors it seems necessary. We seemingly ignore the Surgeon General, our doctors and our own parents when they told us never to do drugs and go play outside every now and then. When talking about our weight, or smoking or drug problems, who do we have to blame but ourselves?

There are several simple ways to raise awareness: Even calorie counts at restaurants can help the obesity epidemic, though some Americans are reluctant of having the government go “too far” in those measures.

Workplaces also hold responsibility — and they’re doing better at it: Employers are increasingly rolling out wellness programs to engage their employees in their health management. Stress and other behaviors affecting our health should also play a role, too.

To fix a problem this big, it really does take a nation.

For more from Kathryn Mayer, see:

AHIP: PPACA will raise young adult premiums

CDHPs can save most employees money, study says

No vacation nation