UTMB researcher examines why U.S. health continues to lag behind

A University of Texas Medical Branch researcher is a guest editor of a May supplemental issue of the Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences.

Dr. Neil Mehta, an associate professor in epidemiology in the School of Public and Population Health at UTMB, is a guest editor of the special supplemental issue, “Why is Health in the United States Continuing to Lag Behind?”

“There’s no simple answer,” Mehta said. “The issue touches on the many complicated factors with a focus on social and behavioral factors.”

Life expectancy in the United States is lower than it is in other rich countries. Even the most affluent U.S. states—those characterized by dynamic gig economies with many highly skilled workers—exhibit outcomes that are on par or lag national averages of other high-income countries. Chronic disease and disability levels are also generally higher in the United States compared to many other peer countries.

The articles examine data about this lag, including causes of death and specific age groups. They also focus on factors outside the health care sector such as income disparities.

The special issue showcases the work of TRENDS, a network of researchers who want to accelerate scientific understanding of old-age disability and dementia trends. Mehta directs the network. 

Mehta reached out to various academic journals with the idea for this special issue. The Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences agreed to the concept.

The Michigan Center on the Demography of Aging at the University of Michigan provided funding for the supplemental issue with a grant from the National Institute on Aging.

“The United States has lagged behind for some time, but over the last decade it’s gotten a lot worse,” Mehta said. “Even though the United States has fared poorly compared to other countries, we are falling even further behind.”

Mehta also is one of the authors of a paper in this supplemental issue that compares cardiovascular disease mortality rates across countries. The paper points to the high obesity levels in the United States as a factor in American’s high cardiovascular disease mortality relative to other countries.

“The United States is not doing as well as it could in terms of many aspects of population health,” Mehta said.