The United States (US) outspends most of its industrialized counterparts in paying for health care costs. However, its high expenditure does not translate into positive health outcomes for the North American nation. In fact, experts say the US has many negative indicators of health, compared to most of its industrialized counterparts (Centers for Disease Control, 2011). This paper identifies infant mortality and life expectancy as key health indicators that the United States (US) lags behind other countries. It further goes ahead to analyze these health outcomes across US states. However, before embarking on the details of this analysis, it is important to understand these health indicators.
Description of Health Indicators
CDC (2013) describes infant mortality as the premature death of an infant, before the baby marks the first birthday. Statistically, experts report the infant mortality rate as a measure of infant deaths across 1,000 live births (CDC, 2013). This paper has identified life expectancy as another health indicator of the US health care system. It refers to the number of years a person expects to live. The US reports negative health outcomes for the two health indicators (compared to other industrialized nations).
How the US Ranks according to the above Health Indicators
Compared to other developed countries, the US has among the lowest life expectancies for both men and women. For example, the life expectancy of men, in the US, is 75 years (California Healthline, 2013). This number is four times lower than the life expectancy of men in Switzerland. Comparatively, women in the US have a life expectancy of 80 years (California Healthline, 2013). Experts estimate that this age is the second lowest life expectancy among industrialized nations that include Australia, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, and Italy (World Health Organization, 2014). In fact, this life expectancy is five years lower than the life expectancy of Japanese women (California Healthline, 2013).
Spencer (2013) says the US has the highest infant mortality rate in the industrialized world. About 11,300 babies die, less than 24 hours after birth (Spencer, 2013). Compared to other countries, this statistic shows that the infant mortality rate (babies dying during the first day after birth) in the US is 50 times higher than other industrialized nations (Centers for Disease Control, 2011). To affirm, this finding, Spencer (2013) conducted a study among 33 developed nations and found out that the average infant mortality rate, in developed countries, was about 7,500 deaths annually (this figure is half what the US reports).
Reasons for the Low Health Rankings
Many experts have voiced different reasons for the poor performance of the US health care system, in terms of its infant mortality and life expectancy rates. Although their opinions differ, they mainly highlight the role of social inequalities, of the capitalistic system, in contributing to these undesirable health outcomes (Bezruchka, 2010). For example, some observers say the fragmented nature of the US health care system contributes to its negative health outcomes (Bezruchka, 2010). Others believe that the lack of access to health care services (especially for uninsured people) also contributes to the country’s high infant mortality rates and low life expectancies.
Which Two States have the best and Worst Health Rankings?
Hawaii and Minnesota have the highest life expectancy rates in the US (U.S. National Center for Health Statistics, 2008). Both states have a life expectancy of 81.48 and 80.85, respectively (U.S. National Center for Health Statistics, 2008). West Virginia and Mississippi have the lowest life expectancy rates of 75.4 and 75.0, respectively. This finding is unsurprising because observers have always noted that Southern states have the lowest life expectancies in the US (Iannou & Langs, 2014).
Southern states also report high infant mortality rates because Goodnough (2013) says Alabama and Mississippi report the highest infant deaths in the country (they also have among the lowest life expectancies). According to the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics (2008), Utah and Washington have the lowest infant mortality rates. There are several reasons that could explain the varying infant mortality rates among the states sampled above.
Researchers say the racial composition of these states partly explains this finding (Bezruchka, 2010). For example, states that have a higher percentage of white people often have few numbers of infant deaths, compared to states that have a high population of African-Americans (Iannou & Langs, 2014). The economic differences among these jurisdictions also explain the varying levels of infant mortality rates. In other words, states with a strong economic background have low infant mortality rates, while those that have poor economic conditions report higher infant mortality rates.
This paper shows that the US lags behind other developed nations, in terms of infant mortality rates and life expectancy rates. However, these health indicators vary across many states. This finding means other factors (specific to the country) influence health outcomes in the US. The social determinants of health largely explain this fact. For example, this paper has shown that most southern states report high infant mortality rates and low life expectancies.
The low household incomes, high numbers of uninsured people, and relatively lower access to health care services in the South explain these health indicators. Although this statement shows that the social determinants of health affect health outcomes, low life expectancy rates and high infant mortality rates in the US highlight the shortcomings of its capitalist system.
Bezruchka, S. (2010). Health equity in the USA. Social Alternatives, 29(2), 50–56.
California Healthline. (2013). U.S. Ranks Below Other Nations for Many Health Indicators, Report Finds. Web.
CDC. (2013). Infant Mortality. Web.
Centers for Disease Control. (2011). Health disparities and inequalities report United States. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Web.
Goodnough, A. (2013). U.S. Infant Mortality Rate Fell Steadily From ’05 to ’11. Web.
Spencer, N. (2013). US Surpasses Other Industrialized Countries In Infant Death Rate. Web.
U.S. National Center for Health Statistics. (2008). Infant Mortality Rate. Web.
World Health Organization. (2014). World health statistics. Web.