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Five Shameful Ways the US Is Leading the World

The US leads the world in obesity, health care spending, energy use per person, defense spending, and is the most expensive place in the world to have a baby.

(Image: Spilling money via Shutterstock)

America, the land of the brave and the free. America, the best country in the world. That’s how many Americans like to speak of their country and indeed, it is the reason many immigrants see the United States as the land of their dreams.

There’s a dark side to this, however: ways in which this country is the best that it should not be proud of.

1. Obesity

Arriving in the U.S. as an immigrant, I was amazed at the size of restaurant portions. So it’s no surprise to learn that the U.S. has been ranked as the most obese country in the world. Obesity is indeed a national health crisis and contributes to an estimated 100,000 to 400,000 deaths in the U.S. per year. In 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 35.7 percent of American adults are obese, as well as 17% of children and adolescents.

Experts indicate that the love of fast food, sugary drinks, processed food and sweet treats accounts for much of this, but those portion sizes are also to blame. It’s so easy to gain weight here since the ethic driven into people is to finish what’s on their plates. Since there’s so much put on people’s plates in the United States, they’re invariably going to end up eating more.

2. Health Care

Individuals spend more money per person on health care in the United States than in any other country in the world, about $5,300 annually. In comparison, Switzerland spends about $3,500 dollars per person per year, Japan about $2,000 and Turkey as little as $446 per person each year.

The main reason for the high cost of American health care is that most medical services, materials, technologies and drugs are more expensive than in other industrialized countries. Governments in many other countries play a much stronger role in financing health care services and their citizens are obliged to help pay for it through taxes. In return, all are usually covered by national health insurance. Obamacare, anyone?

3. Giving Birth

According to a recent New York Times-commissioned analysis, the total average cost of having a baby is $37,341, making the United States the most expensive place in the world to have a baby. This covers prenatal care ($6,257), birth ($18,136 on average), postpartum care ($528) and newborn medical care ($12,419). The total is so high in part because every service is billed separately. And it’s not that women in other countries, where maternity expenses are free or inexpensive, get lower-quality care. In fact, America has one of the highest rates of infant and maternal death among industrialized countries.

Insurance doesn’t necessarily help: 62 percent of private plans come with no maternity coverage. Mothers-to-be have to go through what the Times calls “an extended shopping trip though the American healthcare bazaar” where they try to figure out the cost of things like ultrasounds and blood tests. Pricing is widely variable, and it’s common for mothers to receive treatments they really don’t need.

4. Energy Use Per Person

The U.S. is the global leader in the amount of energy use per person. Specifically, the U.S. is number one in electricity consumption and in oil consumption, and number two in coal consumption, right behind China.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports that Americans account for nearly 19 percent of Planet Earth’s total primary energy consumption, which comes from petroleum, natural gas, coal, nuclear and renewable energy.

What’s to blame for these numbers? The cost of heating and cooling increasingly large homes, electricity requirements for home electronics, the high amount of energy required to produce consumer goods in the industrial sector, and the insistence on owning your own car and driving everywhere.

5. Defense Spending

The U.S. spends far more than any other country on defense and security. Since 2001, the base defense budget has soared from $287 billion to $530 billion, a figure that doesn’t even include the primary costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

The U.S. government actually spent about $718 billion on defense and international security assistance in 2011, compared to 2% that it spent on education. That includes all of the Pentagon’s underlying costs as well as the price tag for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which came to $159 billion in 2011. It also includes arms transfers to foreign governments. It does not, however, include benefits for veterans, which came to $127 billion in 2011, or about 3.5 percent of the federal budget.

The United States is a remarkable country in many ways, but certainly not all ways.

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