U.S. Lags in Halting Preventable Death

Of 19 Industrialized Countries, U.S. Has Highest Rate of Preventable Deaths Before Age 75

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on January 08, 2008
From the WebMD Archives

Jan. 8, 2008 -- The U.S. today finds itself last on a new list of countries seeking to curb preventable deaths in people younger than 75.

Not only does the U.S. have the worst spot on that list, its rate of improvement is also slower than the other 18 industrialized nations included in the study.

The U.S. might have been spared an estimated 101,000 deaths annually if its preventable death rate matched that of the top-ranked countries, according to the researchers, who included Ellen Nolte, PhD, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Their study appears in the January/February edition of Health Affairs.

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Preventable Deaths

Nolte's team defined preventable deaths as deaths in people younger than 75 with treatable cancers, bacterial infections, diabetes, stroke, heart disease, and surgical complications.

Using data from the World Health Organization, the researchers compared preventable death rates among 19 countries during 1997-1998 and 2002-2003.

From 1997 to 1998, the U.S. had a high rate of preventable deaths, but it wasn't the worst-ranked country on the list. By 2002-2003, preventable death rates dropped in all 19 countries, including the U.S.

But the U.S. had had the mildest rate of decline -- 4% -- compared with a 16% average decline among the other countries. That's how the U.S. wound up with the highest preventable death rate in 2002-2003.

Why did the U.S. lag in avoiding preventable deaths? The study doesn't answer that question. But the slow decline in U.S. preventable deaths "has coincided with an increase in the uninsured population," write the researchers.

How the Nations Ranked

Here is the full list of how the 19 countries ranked in their 2002-2003 preventable death rates:

  1. France
  2. Japan
  3. Australia
  4. Spain
  5. Italy
  6. Canada
  7. Norway
  8. The Netherlands
  9. Sweden
  10. Greece
  11. Austria
  12. Germany
  13. Finland
  14. New Zealand
  15. Denmark
  16. U.K.
  17. Ireland
  18. Portugal
  19. U.S.