World Health Statistics

The World Health Organization (WHO) publishes an annual compilation of health-related data for its 194 member states that includes a summary of progress towards achieving the health-related Millennium Development Goals and associated targets. The WHO also produces statistical data and indicators on the topics of non-communicable diseases, universal health coverage, and civil registration. The publication World Health Statistics is a part of the WHO’s efforts to provide enhanced access to comparable high-quality statistics on core measures of population health and national health systems.

The US-based Institute of Medicine recently published the results of a research project that compared key statistical indicators of population health status among seventeen of the world’s most economically-advanced nations. The report on this project, US Health in International Perspective, carried the subtitle Shorter Lives, Poorer Health that captured, in just four words, the overall findings of the panel of experts in medicine, epidemiology and demography that conducted this research project. One of the objectives of the project was to address the paradox of the health condition of the US population; namely, a combination of relatively greater national wealth and income together with significantly higher spending per capita on health care, nevertheless results in unfavorable outcomes concerning health status and life expectancy in comparison with other nations. The sixteen other nations included in the study are: Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom.

In comparing the experience of the US with other economically-advanced nations for specific health-related issues, the Institute of Medicine study identified nine 2013areas where the US experience compared unfavorably to that of the other nations. (1) Adverse birth outcomes: For decades, the United States has experienced the highest infant mortality of high-income countries and also ranks poorly on other birth outcomes, such as low birth weight. American children are less likely to live to age five than children in other high-income countries. (2) Injuries and homicides: Deaths from motor vehicle crashes, non-transportation-related injuries, and violence occur at much higher rates in the United States than in other countries and are a leading cause of death in children, adolescents, and young adults. Since the 1950s, US adolescents and young adults have died at higher rates from traffic accidents and homicide than their counterparts in other countries. (3) Adolescent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections: Since the 1999s, among high-income countries, US adolescents have had the highest rate of pregnancies and are more likely to acquire sexually transmitted infections. (4) HIV and AIDS: The United States has the second highest prevalence of HIV infection among the seventeen peer countries and the highest incidence of AIDS. (5) Drug-related mortality: Americans lose more years of life to alcohol and other drugs than people in peer countries, even when deaths from drunk driving are excluded. (6) Obesity and diabetes: For decades, the United States has had the highest obesity rate among high-income countries. High prevalence rates for obesity are seen in US children and in every age group thereafter. From age 20 onward, US adults have among the highest prevalence rates of diabetes and high plasma glucose levels among peer countries. (7) Heart disease: The US death rate from ischemic heart disease is the second highest among the seventeen peer countries. Americans reach age 50 with a less favorable cardiovascular risk profile than their peers in Europe, and adults over age 50 are more likely to develop and die from cardiovascular disease than are older adults in other high-income countries. (8) Chronic lung disease: Lung disease is more prevalent and associated with higher mortality in the United States than in the United Kingdom and other European countries. (9) Disability: Older US adults report a higher prevalence of arthritis and activity limitations than their counterparts in the United Kingdom, other European countries, and Japan.

US health-related statistics reflect adverse outcomes among young persons and socio-economically disadvantaged groups. However, they also indicate that, compared to other nations in the study, the US population has higher survival rates after age 75, better control of blood pressure and cholesterol levels, lower stroke mortality, and good outcomes from cancer screening and resulting survival. The poor comparative rankings of the US for many of the significant health and demographic statistical measures in the research project would suggest that there is a need to implement corrective public health policies. Such public policy initiatives could strengthen systems for delivering health and social services, focus on education and employment, advocate healthy life-styles and develop better conditions for future well-being. It is relevant to note that, among the countries studied by the Institute of Medicine, those with the most favorable health outcomes made significant investments in health and welfare, and demonstrated a strong societal commitment to the health and welfare of the entire population.