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Welcome to lethal living, American-style

January 11, 2013|By Jon Healey
  • Taken from a new study by the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine, this chart compares deaths caused by violence in the United States to those in 16 other developed nations.
Taken from a new study by the National Research Council and the Institute… (National Academy of Sciences )

It would be silly to try to reduce the American character -- if there even is such a thing -- to a single graph. But the one pictured above, taken from a report released Wednesday by the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine, does a pretty good job conveying the truth behind one of the developed world's favorite stereotypes of the United States.

We are, indeed, far more prone to lethal violence than any other country in the developed world.

Why? The report wasn't designed to answer that particular question. Instead, it compared a slew of health statistics collected from Europe, Canada, Japan and Australia to see how disease and premature mortality rates in the United States stack up against those of its peers. Then it offered some guesses as to why this country fared as poorly as it did.

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Here's a distillation from my colleague Eryn Brown:

"It is possible that there's something about American culture, and the high value it places on individualism and personal autonomy, that results in its poor performance, the researchers noted. It also may be that the U.S. is ahead of the curve on a general trend, and that other nations will also start to experience the health problems that have been on the rise here since the 1980s, [Samuel] Preston [of the University of Pennsylvania, a collaborator on the study,] said."

It's worth taking a few minutes to flip through the complete set of graphs that the one above was taken from. Those data reflect only the mortality side of the study; the findings on health measures aren't collected in the grafs, but they are similarly grim. As the National Research Council put it in a summary of the report: "Not only are their lives shorter, but Americans also have a longstanding pattern of poorer health that is strikingly consistent and pervasive over the life course -- at birth, during childhood and adolescence, for young and middle-aged adults, and for older adults."

It's not all bad news; according to the council's summary, "Americans have lower cancer death rates and greater control of blood pressure and cholesterol levels." And those lucky enough to still be living at age 75 "can expect to live longer than people in the peer countries." Woohoo! Now if only we can avoid getting shot, stabbed or beaten to death before then.

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Follow Jon Healey on Twitter @jcahealey

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