On Thursday, New York Times reporter Sabrina Tavernise filed a report on death rates among the young in America and misleadingly equated it to a failure of America to achieve universal health care, in the badly titled "For Americans Under 50, Stark Findings on Health."
The Times'stretched the definition of poor "health" in America past the credibility breaking point, to include death rates from guns, cars, and illegal drugs. Gun deaths and car accidents have nothing to do with health care, and drug addiction has a peripheral link.
Younger Americans die earlier and live in poorer health than their counterparts in other developed countries, with far higher rates of death from guns, car accidents and drug addiction, according to a new analysis of health and longevity in the United States.
Researchers have known for some time that the United States fares poorly in comparison with other rich countries, a trend established in the 1980s. But most studies have focused on older ages, when the majority of people die.
The findings were stark. Deaths before age 50 accounted for about two-thirds of the difference in life expectancy between males in the United States and their counterparts in 16 other developed countries, and about one-third of the difference for females. The countries in the analysis included Canada, Japan, Australia, France, Germany and Spain.
The 378-page study by a panel of experts convened by the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council is the first to systematically compare death rates and health measures for people of all ages, including American youths. It went further than other studies in documenting the full range of causes of death, from diseases to accidents to violence. It was based on a broad review of mortality and health studies and statistics.
A "broad review" indeed. Tavernise reiterated the deadly trends that she conflated with a purported lack of adequate health care in America.
Car accidents, gun violence and drug overdoses were major contributors to years of life lost by Americans before age 50.
Youths fared no better. The United States has the highest infant mortality rate among these countries, and its young people have the highest rates of sexually transmitted diseases, teen pregnancy and deaths from car crashes. Americans lose more years of life before age 50 to alcohol and drug abuse than people in any of the other countries.
The panel sought to explain the poor performance. It noted the United States has a highly fragmented health care system, with limited primary care resources and a large uninsured population. It has the highest rates of poverty among the countries studied.
What a "fragmented health care system" has to do with homicides and car wrecks is again left unexplained, but it's a handy club Tavernise uses to critique America's relatively free market and free society.
The report also explored less conventional explanations. Could cultural factors like individualism and dislike of government interference play a role? Americans are less likely to wear seat belts and more likely to ride motorcycles without helmets.
The United States is a bigger, more heterogeneous society with greater levels of economic inequality, and comparing its health outcomes to those in countries like Sweden or France may seem lopsided. But the panelists point out that this country spends more on health care than any other in the survey. And as recently as the 1950s, Americans scored better in life expectancy and disease than many of the other countries in the current study.