Posted on May 26, 2020, 4 p.m.
American may be leading the world in reported COVID-19 deaths for several reasons which includes being one of the largest countries and because it is among the least healthy nations among comparable nations when it comes to health related conditions such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease.
Alex Azar who is the Health and Human Services Secretary has put part of the blame for the high rate of death stemming from the recent outbreak on the general bad health of Americans heading into the crisis, saying on a State of the Union briefing interview that America has a “significantly disproportionate burden of comorbidities ... (including) obesity, hypertension, diabetes.”
This statement may seem like reaching for excuses, but it is known that those with pre-existing conditions are at an increased risk, and for those that don’t follow medical trends placing America low on health measures has plenty of research to support the claim.
“Yes. Absolutely” in comparison to the top economic countries, said Dr. Scott Frank, a Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine professor in the department of Population and Quantitative Health Science. “Nothing has demonstrated the point more than COVID. It has really exposed cracks in the U.S. healthcare system. It is more like fissures than cracks.”
Recent published research in Health Affairs shows that America has higher rates than Europe for heart disease at 21.8% vs 11.4% respectively, high blood pressure at 50% vs 32.9%, diabetes at 15.4% vs 10.9% and obesity at 33.1% vs 17.1% respectively among other factors.
Additionally the Peterson-Kaiser Family Foundation’s Health System Tracker reports that America is worse than each of 11 other countries of similar economic size, wealth, and for problems associated with cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes based on disease burden measure that take into account premature deaths and years of productive life lost due to certain health issues.
Dr. Frank suggests that America should not be ranking so poorly that “It is an indictment of the U.S. healthcare system, not the U.S. population.” This was also a point brought up by Azar during the briefing interview.
“Unfortunately, the American population is a very diverse ... It is a population with significant unhealthy comorbidities that do make many individuals in our communities, in particular African American, minority communities particularly at risk here because of significant underlying disease health disparities and disease comorbidities -- and that is an unfortunate legacy in our healthcare system that we certainly do need to address,” said Azar.
In 2011 W.H.O published a Global Atlas on cardiovascular disease that ranked America better than most European countries for tobacco and alcohol use as well as for physical activity, but it also placed America worse off than most of Europe for obesity, diabetes, and healthy diets.
Over one fourth of the reported COVID-19 deaths are in America, and Johns Hopkins University places the reported American deaths at about the same as the next three country's reported deaths combined. But as America is the third largest country in the world the death rate per 100,000 people ranks behind several others.
Perhaps the time is well overdue for American officials and regulators to take a serious look at efforts, or as the case may be the lack of effective efforts, to tackle the disproportionate burden of comorbidities that includes obesity, hypertension, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease to improve the nation's overall health and well being.
For the record these conditions are also killers but they are most often overlooked, for example according to the CDC cardiovascular disease is the leading cause for death in America killing one person every 37 seconds, that’s about 647,000 people a year and about 1 in every 4 deaths at a cost of about $219 billion a year. A good place to start improving efforts may be taking a serious look at the horrendous food industry offerings that are contributing to these conditions and as a result the death rates in America.
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