Q: I just read that America, the richest country in the world, is ranked 17th in overall health. How is this possible? Is it our health-care system?
PAUL H., CHICAGO
A: Actually, our health-care system recently was ranked 37th in the world (even though we spend more per capita on health care than any other nation), so we're outperforming that statistic. But health care isn't the only problem: The poor health ranking has to do with a combination of factors. First, not enough people are taking responsibility for their health; almost 70 percent of North Americans are overweight or obese, including 30 percent of children. Also, 48.6 million people are uninsured, so preventive care is not readily available to many.
And, according to the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine (they did the ranking), Americans' health problems disproportionately affect people 50 and younger, especially children and adolescents. Infant mortality, teen deaths from alcohol-related traffic accidents and gun-related homicides, plus higher teen rates of AIDS, lower our health ranking. We also have widespread problems with diabetes and drug-related deaths.
The good news is that Americans have lower death rates from stroke and cancer, better control of blood pressure and LDL cholesterol levels and lower rates of smoking. And if you make it to age 75, you have a longer life expectancy than the elderly in other nations.
You can put yourself at the top of the heath rankings by eliminating trans fats, most saturated fats and added sugars, and add fresh fruits and veggies, lean protein, 100 percent whole grains and 10,000 steps a day. More access to health care; less access to guns (that aren't designed for hunting); more access to good nutrition; less access to illegal drugs; a little sex education; and good jobs.
Oz, M.D., is host of "The Dr. Oz Show," and Mike Roizen, M.D., is chief medical officer at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. To live your healthiest, visit sharecare.com. Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.