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The Doctor Is In: National Health Insurance = Longer Life?

Many people in countries with socialized medicine outlive Americans. But is access to health care the reason?

by
Dr. Linda Halderman

Bio

July 22, 2008 - 12:00 am
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Q: If socialized medicine is so bad, why do people in countries with government or single-payer healthcare live longer?

A: Life expectancy in the U.S. compared with that of other countries is often cited to condemn the American healthcare system; the uninsured are dying from lack of health insurance and treatment, it is argued, while countries with universal coverage live longer as the result of their healthcare systems.

But is life expectancy primarily dependent on having health insurance? Is access to healthcare services the main determinant of longevity?

Trauma

Motor vehicle fatalities are the leading cause of death for Americans aged 1-29. Driving under the influence of alcohol is the most common factor in fatal crashes. For every reported death related to a motor vehicle crash, it is estimated that thirteen individuals are injured severely enough to require hospitalization.

For trauma in the U.S. not involving motor vehicles, more than one third of all fatalities from falls, burn injuries, drownings, and homicides involved intoxicated victims, as did more than one quarter of poisonings and suicides.

Supporters of government-provided healthcare often attribute longevity to healthcare access without considering the impact of other factors. Healthcare access in the U.S. has less of an impact on mortality statistics than trauma.

Obesity: Americans Supersized

The typical American diet is high in calories and fat, and rich in processed foods, refined carbohydrates, salt and animal protein. Portion sizes have increased, and dining out — including fast food — is more frequent than in the past. This diet is often combined with a sedentary lifestyle focused on television, video games, and computers.

In 2006, 46 states in the U.S. had an overall obesity rate from 20-30%. For adults aged 20-74, the rate is 32.9%, and rates among children have steadily increased for the past 20 years. These figures do not include the high number of Americans who are overweight and at risk for becoming obese, which carries a higher medical risk.

Although obesity is increasingly a worldwide health problem, nearly twice as many Americans as Europeans are obese.

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