Although life expectancy in the United States has been growing in the last several decades, it has done so more slowly than other countries due to gaps in health insurance, poor living conditions, and poor health behaviors, according to a report released Wednesday from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
The OECD's report shows that life expectancy in the United States increased by about eight years since 1970, to 78.7 years in 2011. But life expectancy grew more rapidly in other OECD countries, which saw averages of 10-year gains since 1970. Now, the United States is more than a year below the OECD average life expectancy of 80.1 years.
Additionally, the obesity rate in the United States is the highest of all countries in the OECD, and has increased over time. In 2000, the obesity rate stood at 30.7 percent, but by 2010, that number had increased to 36.5 percent.
"As is the case in several other countries, the obesity rate in the United States tends to be higher among disadvantaged socio-economic groups, especially in women," the OECD said in a statement. "Mortality from obesity-related diseases increases progressively once the threshold is crossed."
Since 1970, Korea saw the largest growth in life expectancy, whereas in South Africa, the life expectancy slightly declined.
"In the United States, the gains in life expectancy since 1970 have also been much more modest than in most other OECD countries," the report says. "While life expectancy in the United States used to be one year above the OECD average in 1970, it is now more than one year below the average."
What's more, the life expectancy gap between the United States and other "leading countries," according to the report, has also grown. In Switzerland, for example, the life expectancy for men was 4.2 years longer than for American men in 2011. In 1970, that gap was less than three years.
Still, the United States spends more on health than most other OECD countries. In fact, the United States spends more than twice as much per capita than the OECD average.
"Higher health spending per capita is generally associated with higher life expectancy at birth, although this relationship tends to be less pronounced in countries with the highest health spending per capita," the report says.
But the United States suffers from gaps in health insurance, and poor primary care that could prevent costly hospital admissions.
The report notes that the United States is one of two OECD countries (the other being Mexico) that does not have universal, or quasi-universal health coverage. In the United States, 15 percent of the population was still uninsured in 2011, the report says.