An important health measure is premature death, or years of potential life lost. The standard age for this measure in the developed world is 75 years, meaning most people would live to be that age if not for extenuating circumstances. There is considerable debate about the causes of premature death. Some blame shortcomings in the U.S. health-care system. Others point to destructive health behaviors. Still others cite the effects of poverty.
Nearly one-quarter of American women and one-third of American men die before age 75 of causes that potentially could have been prevented by timely and effective health care, according to a 2008 study. They either chose not to seek care or could not afford it. The U.S. ranked 15th out of 19 industrialized nations on regular use of health-care facilities. If the U.S. had performed as well as the top three nations—France, Japan and Australia—it would have averted more than 100,000 deaths a year.
Between 1997 and 2007, the United States reduced its rate of premature death by 20 percent. However, 16 other high-income nations reduced their rates by an average of 31 percent during the same period. The U.S. rate is twice as high as that of France. The researchers blamed the slower U.S. progress on the high costs of healthcare and lack of universal health coverage.
Locally, residents in Dallas County have the highest rate of premature death, with an average of 7,279 years of potential life lost before age 75, per 100,000 people. Tarrant County is next, with 6,880 potential years lost. It’s followed by Denton County, with 4,654 years and Collin County, with 4,038 potential years lost—both far under the U.S. average of 6,800 years and the state’s overall average of 7,186 potential years lost.