Special Report

The Most Serious Public Health Issues America Is Facing Today

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6. Access to health care

The United States spends more on health care per capita than any other country in the world, at over $10,000 a year. Nonetheless, America falls behind other wealthy countries in any number of quality of health measurements and has the highest level of inequity in available, affordable care. 

Key to accessible health care is insurance. Uninsured people live with more illness and have a higher mortality rate than those with health insurance. Cost is the most common reason for the high number of uninsured. Another barrier to broad-based health care is actual availability. There are fewer doctors in the United States — 2.5 per 1,000 people — than any European Country except Poland, with Austria topping the list with twice as many doctors per capita. The problem is most vexing in rural areas, where the ratio of physicians to patients is just 1 to 2,500, according to the National Rural Health Association. See how many doctors are in your state.

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7. Mental health

Mental health disorders are among the most common causes of disability in the United States, with 18.1% of the population suffering from mental illness and 4.2% from debilitating mental illness that often requires hospitalization. Mental illness, especially depression, increases the risk for many types of physical health problems, especially long-lasting one like stroke, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. In turn, chronic conditions can increase the risk for mental illness.

While there has been a slight decrease in adults with mental health, of particular concern is the increasing rate of youth with mental health issues, according to “The State of Mental Health in America” report by the nonprofit Mental Health America. Other concerns include mental issues across particular populations, such as elderly sufferers of dementia and victims of trauma, especially within lower-income areas, which tend to experience worse mental health than wealthier areas. Today, 9 million Americans are not getting care for their mental illness, mainly because of cost.

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8. Suicide

In 2017, 47,000 Americans died from suicide, the 10th most common cause of death in the country, but the second for young people between ages 10 and 34. Millions of other Americans thought of or attempted suicide that year. Not only is suicide the 10th leading cause of death, but it is increasing at an unsettling pace — 31% between 2001 and 2017.

Suicide rates are four times higher for males than females, and, in terms of ethnicity, highest for American Indian and Alaskan native populations (an alarming 44.6 per 100,000), followed by non-Hispanic whites (36.1 per 100,000). Regionally, the Mountain states report more than double the incidence of suicides as California and a handful of Eastern States, including New York.

Half of the people who commit suicide have an underlying mental disorder, mainly depression, but there are other risk factors, including incarceration, poor job satisfication or job loss, history of abuse, social isolation or bullying, social loss, family history of suicide, diagnosis of a serious disease, access to firearms, and substance abuse.

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9. Gun violence

In 2012, Americans nationwide were shocked by the widely covered mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Six adults and 20 children 6 to 7 years old were killed. Since then, there have been 2,124 mass shootings in the United States. 

Compared to other countries of similar affluence and development, the United States gun violence problem is completely out of proportion. With less than 5% of the world’s population, the United States has more than 40% of the world’s civilian-owned guns. And largely as a result, the 29 firearm homicides per 1 million people in the U.S. is the highest among advanced nations, according to the Human Development Index. The next highest firearm homicide rate is 7.7 per 1 million people in Switzerland

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10. Automobile accidents

Seatbelt usage, traffic law enforcement, and safety improvements in vehicles and infrastructure have helped save incalculable numbers of lives. Still, driving remains a very dangerous activity, and the vast majority of Americans regularly travel by car or truck.

Motor vehicle crashes were, until 2017, the most likely cause of accidental death in the United States. (Due to the rise of fentanyl abuse opioid overdose surpassed car accidents). With the odds of dying at 1 in every 103 deaths, motor vehicle crashes are still the sixth likeliest cause of death in the United States. Approximately 37,000 people die, and 2.35 million are injured or disabled, each year across the country from motor vehicle-related accidents. 

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