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Anne Foy

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Sept. 27, 2016\

According to a new report and research document published in The Lancet medical journal this week, America is performing poorly in the United Nations rankings on progress made towards their global health goals, as a result of several factors. These factors include childhood obesity, and high levels of alcohol abuse and violence within the country. Of the 188 countries included in the ranking, America is now in 28th position, below countries such as: Iceland, Singapore, Sweden, Andorra and the UK (who took positions 1-5, respectively). America’s closest neighbour Canada also fared considerably better than the US, taking 9th position.  

What Are The United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals?

The United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals are a series of 17 universal targets that were set out by the UN in 2015 with the aim of boosting worldwide health by improving access to healthcare, easing poverty, and improving the environment. The goals include eradicating worldwide hunger and poverty, creating economic growth, reducing inequality, and creating sustainable communities. Health is the main focus of these targets, and almost all of these high level goals have smaller health targets within them. This report represents the first time these worldwide goals have been assessed, and it is important to note that improvements have been seen worldwide. However America’s improvements have simply not been as high as was expected, largely as a result of the low levels of health care access experienced by huge parts of the population.

Key Areas of Concern

One of the largest areas of concern for America was the high levels of obesity still experienced in the country: The obesity crisis in the United States is now so severe that one in three adult Americans are considered to be obese. This is causing a wealth of underlying pre-existing conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and mobility issues that are putting a huge strain on national medical and insurance services.  One of the problems that are leading to this obesity crisis in the country is simple economics: high fat, processed foods are generally more filling, cheaper, and easy to access than fresh foods such as fruit and vegetables. This means that moms on extremely low or restricted incomes are more likely to purchase processed foods that will fill their kids quickly, because they often cannot afford to purchase anything else.

Six health clinics in Chicago are trialling a scheme in their communities with the goal of removing this problem. They are working with foodbanks to ‘prescribe’ fresh fruits and vegetables in a bid to improve the diets of the poorest members of their communities, as well as those suffering from chronic health conditions. These schemes are run largely through volunteer donations, and they don’t accept candy, sodas or other unhealthy produce: the goal is a healthy diet for everyone. This so-called “food as medicine” strategy aims to both fight hunger and target obesity by teaching those on low incomes what kinds of foods they should be eating, whilst also warding off future health problems that can be caused by poor nutrition, ultimately saving money on healthcare costs in the long run.

The Dangers of Alcoholism

Another health concern that is costing the country in its UN health goal ranking, as well as costing the American economy considerably, is the large amount of alcoholism and alcohol use disorder in the country. In 2014, 16.3 million adults ages 18 and older suffered from some form of Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) and around 10 percent of those individuals sought in patient treatment for their alcoholism. Whilst the government has spent huge amounts of money and time in fighting the war on drugs, the battle against alcoholism has largely been ignored, and the numbers continue to increase year on year. Of even greater concern is the number of young people choosing to binge drink and drink alcohol to access, alongside a college culture that encourages this kind of drinking.  The UN has been very vocal about wanting to see these figures decrease.  Perhaps this report, and the statistics it has revealed, can act as a wakeup call and help us to curb our problematic drinking as a nation.