SOUTHBOROUGH, Mass. — The U.S. spent nearly 18 percent of its gross domestic product on health care in 2010, according to the World Bank. That figure comes out to $8,351 per person. That same year, average life expectancy in the U.S. was 78 years.
Canada, however, spent about 11 percent of its GDP on health care — about $5,000 per person — yet achieved a life expectancy of 81 years in 2010. Even Cuba, which spent about $600 per person, still managed to achieve a life expectancy of 79 years.
Dr. Louis Fazen III, chair of the Southborough Board of Health, told a small audience at the Southborough Library last week that the amount of money Americans spend on health care is disproportionate to the results.
"It does behoove us to get involved in our society and try to reduce these costs," he said.
The costs are heavily weighted in one direction. Fazen pointed out that about 80 percent of Americans' lifetime health spending occurs in the last six months of life. "What does it get you?” he asked. "You spend all that money and you get six months."
Meanwhile, Fazen said, comparatively little money is spent on public health measures and preventative care, even though the leading causes of preventable death — smoking, obesity and alcohol abuse — are lifestyle choices.
That’s why, he said, local public health departments are focused on educating students about their health.
He offered more sobering statistics: For example, 14 percent of Massachusetts high school students smoke, according to the state Department of Public Health. And in a state where one-third of children and two-thirds of adults are either overweight or obese, only 17 percent of high school students are physically active daily. More than 40 percent do not attend a physical education class during the week. As these young people age, their health problems only worsen.
Fazen encouraged his listeners to keep this information in mind when voting on policy decisions and getting involved in local government.
"It’s in our own hands, for a lot of us," Fazen said. "We’re all in these health care plans and we share the costs in society."