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

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

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

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

Their study appears in the January/February edition of HealthAffairs.

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Preventable Deaths

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

Using data from the World Health Organization, the researchers comparedpreventable 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 itwasn't the worst-ranked country on the list. By 2002-2003, preventable deathrates dropped in all 19 countries, including the U.S.

But the U.S. had had the mildest rate of decline -- 4% -- compared with a16% average decline among the other countries. That's how the U.S. wound upwith the highest preventable death rate in 2002-2003.

Why did the U.S. lag in avoiding preventable deaths? The study doesn'tanswer that question. But the slow decline in U.S. preventable deaths "hascoincided with an increase in the uninsured population," write theresearchers.

How the Nations Ranked

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