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It’s the land of baseball, of Thanksgiving turkey, of Lady Gaga and the Rolling Stones. And, according to a new report, the U.S. is also home to some of the unhealthiest people in the developed world.

Mortality Rates Graph Data from World Health Organization (2011)

What’s the Deal?

The report, based on findings from the Institute of National Medicine and the National Research Council, looked at health stats of people younger than 50 in 17 wealthy countries. A panel of experts reported that Americans are less healthy throughout their entire lives and die earlier than people who live in those 16 other countries, which include Japan, Switzerland, and Australia.

The basic takeaway is that, at every stage of life, Americans are sort of screwed. In general, we’re more likely to die before age 50 than people in any other country in the report. Our infant mortality rate is higher than all the other countries and American youth have the highest rates of sexually transmitted infections and teen pregnancy.

Drug use and violence are particular problems in the states: Deaths from alcohol and drug abuse are more common here than in any other country included in the report. And the report notes that the rate of firearm violence is 20 times higher than in 22 other wealthy countries.

The report also found some gender differences. Only about one third of deaths among American males are disease-related; other causes of death include murder, traffic accidents, and suicide. For women, on the other hand, more than half of the deaths are disease-related.

Pretty much the only piece of good news for Americans is that we aren’t doing worse in terms of cancer screening and mortality, control of high blood pressure and cholesterol, smoking rates, and suicides, though it's unclear exactly how advanced we are in these areas.

Is It Legit?

Looks like it. This report is essentially the first big one to look at Americans under the age of 50, and panelists were surprised at how poorly the U.S. fared. Other studies, such as the 2011 National Research Council report, have pointed out the relatively high mortality rate for Americans over age 50.

One thing the panelists can’t say for sure is exactly why the U.S. has fallen so far behind in terms of health and longevity. Among the explanations offered for the U.S.’ low ranking were an unstable health care system and the number of people without insurance. The U.S. also has the highest poverty rate (about 15 percent) of any country in the report. Other possible reasons range from air pollution to the growing obesity epidemic.

How do you think the U.S. should address its high mortality rates for people under 50? Share your ideas in the comments below or tweet the author directly at @ShanaDLebowitz.

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