My great-aunt Catherine, who was the matriarch of our family, liked to remind me: "If you've got your health, you've got everything."
In 21st Century America, we've turned that old aphorism on its head: We've got everything, except our health.
In America, we've got flashy cars and big houses and fast food and easy guns. We've got Big Gulp sodas and 30-minute pizzas and on-demand movies and Sunday-, Monday- and Thursday-night football. We've got cellphones and iPads and Xboxes and GoPros. We've got great hospitals, talented doctors, caring nurses, amazing medical technology.
We've got it all.
Except health. American men rank dead last in life expectancy among 17 of the world's developed countries, according to a recent study by a panel of experts convened by the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council. U.S. women are second to last. And America's young people — defined as those under age 50 — are in poorer health and die earlier than their counterparts in places such as Canada, Australia, Japan, Germany and other modern, industrialized countries.
Where once we could honestly boast that we were lucky to enjoy the many benefits of life as Americans, now we live under a cloud known as "the U.S. health disadvantage."
Car accidents, gun violence, drug overdoses and alcohol abuse plague the under-50 set. Heart disease and lung disease related to eating and smoking habits take a grim toll. America's adults have the highest rates of diabetes and its young people have the highest rates of sexually transmitted diseases and teen pregnancies.
"Something fundamental is going wrong," Dr. Steven Woolf, who chaired the panel, told the New York Times. "Something at the core is causing the U.S. to slip behind these other high-income countries, and it's getting worse."
It's a frightening trend. The U.S. spends more per capita on health care than any other country in the study. A couple of generations ago, Americans' life expectancy was near the top of the list.