American health improvement depends upon addressing class disparities

Prev Med. 2016 Nov:92:6-15. doi: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2016.02.024. Epub 2016 Mar 24.


The gap in health status between the United States and other (OECD) developed countries not only persists but has widened over the past decade. This has occurred despite major declines in smoking prevalence. But as with other health problems, such as obesity, gun violence, and teenage pregnancy, progress against smoking has disproportionately benefitted the better off segments of the American population. Thus smoking, as well as other problems, is now concentrated among the vulnerable members of our society: the poor and less educated, as well as disadvantaged groups such as those with mental illness and substance use disorders, the homeless, those who are incarcerated, and the LGBT community. Although this is a national issue, these problems, as well as overall poverty, are especially concentrated in the Southeastern part of the country. Compared with the other OECD countries, the U.S. has much greater inequality of income and wealth. Furthermore, we are unique in leaving substantial portions of our population not covered by health insurance, again most prominently in the southeastern region. This national health disparity is not simply a factor of the multicultural nature of American society, because it persists when the health of the whites only is compared with the more racially homogeneous OECD nations. The complexity of our poor health performance rules out a single intervention. But it is clear that without focusing on the less fortunate members of our society, especially those in the Southeast, our performance will continue to lag, and possibly deteriorate further.

Keywords: American; Class; Disparities; Health; Homicide; Obesity; Pregnancy; Smoking; Socioeconomic; Southeast.

MeSH terms

  • Chronic Disease
  • Developed Countries
  • Health Status Disparities*
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Obesity / epidemiology
  • Prevalence
  • Racial Groups
  • Smoking / epidemiology
  • Socioeconomic Factors*
  • United States / epidemiology