Americans wallow in wealth and languish in poverty.
American medical facilities are the best on the planet, yet America has a large population of uninsured residents in comparison to other western nations.
Likewise, American physicians are at the top of the fields, yet Americans’ lifespans — for men and women — fall well below global averages.
In this comparison, two Americas exist: one of the affluent and healthy, and one dominated by low salaries, poor access to health care and high rates of all things deadly: poverty, infant mortality, AIDS, drug-related deaths and violent deaths.
Throw in obesity from unhealthy lifestyles and eating habits — a particular curse here in Alabama — and the United States’ picture of a smart, savvy nation of opportunity can be summarily trashed.
If that sounds harsh, it’s because it is. On Wednesday, two of the United States’ top health research groups, the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine, released a report that said, in essence, Americans live worse and die younger than citizens of other modern countries because of a short list of vices and dangers.
Cause-wise, everything was in play: access to health care, access to living wages, unhealthy diets and too many alcohol-related sicknesses and deaths. But at the top of the list was an unmistakable truth: Violent deaths, many directly related to guns.
When pictured alongside comparable nations, the United States has more violent deaths than anyone else — six per 100,000 residents, Wednesday’s report found. Finland, No. 2 on that list, had only one-third of the United States’ violent deaths.
To be fair, not all violent deaths in the United States are gun-related; additionally, the U.S. rate of violent incidents isn’t that much higher than other nations. But, the report said, “One behavior that probably explains the excess lethality of violence and unintentional injuries in the United States is the widespread possession of firearms and the common practice of storing them (often unlocked) at home. The statistics are dramatic.”
Today, America is locked in a gun-control debate that deserves our full attention. The unthinkable tragedy of the Connecticut massacre has altered the national tone about gun access. (For what it’s worth, Slate magazine reported this week that more than 600 people have died from guns in America since the Newtown killings.)
And, yes, the specter of gun violence was unmistakable in Wednesday’s report. But the overriding headline is clear: Americans die more violently and younger than do people who live in comparable nations, particularly where governments have ultra-strict gun laws and mandate open access to health care.
We are our own worst enemies. Too often, our choices put our lives, or the lives of others, at risk. Too often, our politicians don’t have the mettle to divorce from partisanship and humanely legislate. America is too great of a nation for those tragic trends to carry on into the next generation.