The study, done by researchers from the Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH), found that more than one million deaths in the U.S. – including many young and working-age adults – could be avoided each year if the country had similar mortality rates to other developed nations.
The researchers noted that, in 2021, the U.S. had 1.1 million excess deaths which could have been averted, with the excess deaths referred to as the country's "Missing Americans" because these deaths reflect people who would still be alive if the U.S. death rate was equal to its peers. (Related: Government to blame sudden death epidemic on long COVID and climate change, says Ed Dowd.)
"The number of Missing Americans in recent years is unprecedented in modern times," said study lead and corresponding author Jacob Bor, a BUSPH associate professor of global health and epidemiology, in a media release accompanying the publishing of the study.
The researchers analyzed mortality trends in America from 1933 to 2021 and then compared the results with age-specific mortality rates from "peer nations, including Australia, Canada, Japan and 18 nations in Europe.
The findings showed that America had lower mortality rates than peer nations during World War II. By the 1960s and 1970s, America's mortality rates were similar to peer nations. But by the 1980s, the U.S. began a four-decade-long trend of accelerating excess deaths, reaching 622,534 excess deaths in 2019, nearly 1.01 million excess deaths in 2021 and over 1.09 excess deaths in 2021.
According to the study, nearly 50 percent of all Missing Americans in 2020 and 2021 were under the age of 65 – this means that nearly half of the excess deaths in the U.S. were from working-age Americans and even youths.
"Think of people you know who have passed away before reaching age 65. Statistically, half of them would still be alive if the U.S. had the mortality rates of our peers," said Bor. "The U.S. is experiencing a crisis of early death that is unique among wealthy nations."
While Bor and the other researchers acknowledge that the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic likely contributed to a sharp spike in mortality in the U.S., the research does not acknowledge the role vaccines may have played. Instead, Bor and his associates point to the general decline in health standards in the U.S. as the main culprit.
"The U.S. was already experiencing more than 600,000 Missing Americans annually before the pandemic began, and that number was increasing each year," said Bor. "There have been no significant policy changes since then to change this trajectory."
"We waste hundreds of billions each year on health insurers' profits and paperwork, while tens of millions can't afford medical care, healthy food or a decent place to live," said study senior author Steffie Woolhandler, a distinguished professor at the School of Urban Public Health at Hunter College, City University of New York. "Americans die younger than their counterparts elsewhere because when corporate profits conflict with health, our politicians side with the corporations."
Study co-author Andrew Stokes, a BUSPH assistant professor of global health, said that the findings raise a number of urgent questions that need to be addressed in future research. "Which geographic areas are disproportionately responsible for the Missing Americans, and what were their causes of deaths? Answers to these questions may help to clarify policy solutions," he noted.
Learn more about the American healthcare system and how it continues to disappoint many in the country at Medicine.news.
Watch this clip from "The HighWire" as host Del Bigtree and investigative journalist Jefferey Jaxen discuss how excess deaths are also surging in other countries like the United Kingdom.