(Bloomberg) — The average American will die as many as two years sooner than if they lived in Western Europe or Japan. This can be attributed, in part, to three of the darker elements of life in the U.S.: gun violence, drug overdoses, and death on the road.
More than 100,000 people in the U.S. lose their lives as a result of these causes every year. For each of the categories, the death rate is far higher in America than in other wealthy countries, according to research published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The disparity is evident in comparisons with each of the 12 developed countries that have comparable mortality data available. These include Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.
The U.S. could narrow the gap, but ”as a country, we have chosen not to by not investing the resources in injury prevention that would be needed,” said Rebecca Cunningham, an emergency physician and director of the Injury Research Center at the University of Michigan. She wasn’t involved in the JAMA report, which was written by researchers at the U.S. government’s National Center for Health Statistics and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Cunningham pointed to policies that other countries use to reduce premature traffic deaths. In most European nations, the blood alcohol limit for driving is lower than the U.S. standard of .08 percent. Also, infrastructure changes such as roundabouts or dividers widely used outside the U.S. prevent head-on crashes and make collisions less lethal.
When it comes to gun violence, political realities make bridging the chasm between European and U.S. laws unlikely. However, some American firearm deaths could be avoided by encouraging safer gun storage. ”Gun ownership could stay the same in the country, but we could have gun deaths among our children go down,” Cunningham said.
Even debate over this issue has been fraught. Research into better firearm safety has been hamstrung by a longtime Congressional ban on federal grants for such studies. Cunningham points out that the National Institutes of Health didn’t fund a single study on childhood gun injuries from 2005 to 2014, despite the fact that firearms are the second-leading cause of death for Americans aged one to 19, after car crashes.