U.S. Health in International Perspective: Shorter Lives, Poorer Health



The United States is among the wealthiest nations in the world, but it is far from the healthiest. Although life expectancy and survival rates in the United States have improved dramatically over the past century, Americans live shorter lives and experience more injuries and illnesses than people in other high-income countries. A growing body of research is calling attention to this problem, with a 2011 report by the National Research Council confirming a large and rising international “mortality gap” among adults age 50 and older. The U.S. health disadvantage cannot be attributed solely to the adverse health status of racial or ethnic minorities or poor people, because recent studies suggest that even highly advantaged Americans may be in worse health than their counterparts in other countries.

As a follow-up to the 2011 National Research Council report and in light of this new evidence, the National Institutes of Health asked the National Research Council (NRC) and the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to convene a panel of experts to study this issue. The Panel on Understanding Cross-National Health Differences Among High-Income Countries was charged with examining whether the U.S. health disadvantage exists across the life span, exploring potential explanations, and assessing the larger implications of the findings.

Publication types

  • Review

Grants and funding

This study was supported by the John E. Fogarty International Center, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, the National Institute on Aging, and the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research, all within the National Institutes of Health, and the Office of Women’s Health within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services through Contract No. N01-OD-4-2139 Task Orders # 237 and 271 and Contract No. HHSN26300011 between the National Academy of Sciences and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.