A new study published last week compared the health of Americans to that of people in 16 wealthy countries around the world.  Liz Szabo at USAToday.com has the results:

Americans “have a long-standing pattern of poorer health that is strikingly consistent and pervasive” over a person’s lifetime, says the report, from the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council, independent, non-profit groups that advise the federal government on health.

“The tragedy is not that the United States is losing a contest with other countries,” the report says, “but that Americans are dying and suffering from illness and injury at rates that are demonstrably unnecessary.”

Family physician Steven Woolf, who chaired the panel that wrote the report, said authors were “stunned by these findings.”

It all starts at birth:

Most of the difference between male Americans’ longevity and that of their peers is due to deaths before age 50, with many problems rooted in poor childhood health, according to the report, published online Wednesday.

The USA has had the highest infant mortality rate of any developed country for several decades, due partly to a high rate of premature birth. With more than one in five American children living in poverty, the USA also has the highest child poverty rate, the report says.

Denise Mann at WebMD has more regarding children:

Specifically, children born in the U.S. are less likely to reach their fifth birthday than kids from certain other countries. The U.S. also has the highest infant death rate of any high-income country.

What’s more, U.S. teens have higher rates of death from traffic accidents and murders, the highest rates of teenage pregnancy, and are more likely to catch sexually transmitted infections. “I was stunned by how pervasive the disadvantage was across so many different topic areas,” Woolf says.

Szabo has more:

The USA ranks at or near the bottom in nine key areas of health: low birth weight; injuries and homicides; teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections; HIV and AIDS; drug-related deaths; obesity and diabetes; heart disease; chronic lung disease; and general disability.

I guess American healthcare isn’t so great after all:

These poor outcomes are especially depressing, because the USA spends twice as much on healthcare — about $9,000 per person — as other industrial countries, says Gerard Anderson of the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, who was not involved in the report.

The bottom line is that Americans eat poorly.  Our air quality and water quality are poor.  Public health policies regarding teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections are poor.  The enforcement of existing gun laws is poor.  We rely on cars rather than feet and, too often, don’t wear seat belts.  We are spending a lot of money treating the consequences of these circumstances but the wheels are just spinning us nowhere.

The solution is prevention, not intervention.  It starts with each of us as individuals, as families, and then as communities.  Right now Americans — as educated and informed as we should be — are clueless.

Read Institute of Medicine report here.