April 24, 2024

More than a Million Americans “Missing” and US in Premature Death Crisis : ScienceAlert

If the United States had the same mortality rates as other rich countries, more than 1 million people would have avoided death in 2021, a new study has found. Researchers called these additional deaths the Missing Americans.

“The number of Americans Missing in recent years is unprecedented today,” say Boston University epidemiologist Jacob Bor.

“Think about the people you know who died before reaching the age of 65. Statistically, half of them would still be alive if the US had the mortality rates of our peers. The US has an early death crisis that is unique among rich nations.”

Although the COVID-19 pandemic caused a global spike in mortality, the US increase was even more severe compared to other wealthy nations, including Canada, Australia, and the UK. It is also failing to recover in the same way as other Western countries. The new study shows that this mortality trend was already increasing during the previous four decades.

This problem is much worse for minority groups, with mortality rates up to eight times higher on average for Native Americans. But it is not limited to minorities, and two-thirds of the Missing are white Americans.

“Using an international benchmark, we show that Americans of all races and ethnicities are adversely affected by the US policy environment, which places a low priority on public health and social protections, especially for low-income people,” explains Bor.

Bor and colleagues compared mortality data from the US with 21 other wealthy countries from 1933 to 2021. During World War II and its aftermath, the US had the lowest mortality rates of its wealthy peer group, but since the 1980s, the number of Americans Missing has steadily increased.

By 2019 it reached 622,534 people. It then surpassed a million in the years since,”which represents the catastrophic loss of life in the United States during the pandemic, far more than other wealthy nations.”

Half of Missing Americans were under the age of 65 in 2021.

The research literature has suggested that there are multiple reasons for these increases, Bor and his colleagues explain, including higher rates of homicide, suicide, car crashes, STIs, drug abuse, and other diseases.

This speaks to broad policy failures, the researchers argue. While all comparable countries have undergone the same structural changes in their societies over the past four decades, including automation, increases in global trade, shifts to the service sector, and wage pressures, the US has failed to protect those with the least educational opportunity.

“We waste hundreds of billions every year on health insurer profits and paperwork, while tens of millions cannot afford medical care, healthy food, or a decent place to live,” notes Steffie Woolhandler, City University of New York physician.

“Americans die younger than their counterparts elsewhere because when corporate profits conflict with health, our politicians side with the corporations.”

Without increasing minimum wages, safety nets, or affordable health care for the working population, inequality has increased and left the most vulnerable with little choice but to accept unregulated and unhealthy environments, food choices, and work situations that only use drugs to help them cope.

All these problems were exacerbated when the pandemic hit.

“Even a full return to pre-pandemic conditions would hardly end the US mortality crisis,” Bor and his team writenoting that “ensuring that all US residents have access to public health care and social welfare benefits when they need them are places to start,” to reduce the number of Missing Americans.

While the proposed solutions clearly worked as intended in the comparison countries, vested interests succeeded in making those options politically toxic in the US. For example, the NRA discourages any tactic to increasing levels of gun violencenotwithstanding evidence that regulation works.

“While COVID-19 brought new attention to public health, the backlash that occurred during the pandemic undermined confidence in government and support for comprehensive policies to improve population health,” Bora. points out.

“This may be the most damaging long-term impact of the pandemic because the expansion of public policy to support health is how our peers have achieved higher life expectancy and better health outcomes.”

This research was published in PNAS Nexus.

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