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Americans getting fatter, falling behind in life expectancy

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Are America’s poor health habits and spotty health insurance coverage catching up with its citizens? Perhaps. A recent study, Health at a Glance 2013, compiled by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) found that while Americans are living longer, their lifespans are not advancing as rapidly as in other countries.

In 2011, life expectancy in the U.S. stood at 78.7 years, which represents an increase of nearly eight years since 1970. However, that was below the 10-year gain registered across other OECD nations. In fact, life expectancy in the U.S. is currently a year below the OECD average of 80.1 years. In 1970, the U.S. was one year above the average.

The international group points to gaps in health insurance coverage, less than adequate primary care, poor health habits and what it terms inferior living conditions for a significant portion of the population as factors behind the disparity.

Yet, this lag is occurring at the same time the U.S. spends more on health care per capita than all other OECD nations. Higher spending typically translates into lower mortality rates and higher life expectancy, something that is not being seen in the U.S., OECD researchers maintain.

As of 2011, per capita health care spending in the U.S. was $8,500, about two-and-a-half times greater than the OECD average of $3,322 and 50 percent higher than the next highest spending countries, Norway and Switzerland.

The OECD noted the rising rate of obesity in the U.S. The percentage of obese adults in the U.S. has risen from 30.7 percent in 2000 to 36.5 percent in 2010. Though that rate is more than twice as high as the OECD average, the organization pointed out that the obesity rate in several countries is under-estimated because it’s based on self-reported heights and weights.

Due to the lack of proper primary care, the U.S. saw elevated rates for expensive hospital admissions due to chronic conditions, such as asthma, chronic pulmonary disease or diabetes.

Not all bad news

It wasn’t all bad news for the U.S. The OECD report lauded the U.S. health-care system for superior cancer treatment, which results in higher screening rates and survival for several types of cancer than most other developed countries.

Although the U.S. has yet to achieve universal health coverage for core services and had the highest proportion of uninsured among OECD countries (15 percent as of 2011), the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is expected to expand health insurance to residents, the report concluded.

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