The United States has more excess deaths than high-income European countries, a divide that widened during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new study.
Excess deaths are those from all causes above and beyond what would be expected under usual conditions.
And the widening gap between Europe and the United States was not just due to the United States' handling of COVID-19, said study author Patrick Heuveline, a professor of sociology at the University of California, Los Angeles.
“The chronic toll of excess deaths due to causes other than COVID-19 continued to increase as well, further demonstrating the U.S. health policy failure to integrate the social, psychological and economic dimensions of health, from a weak social security net and lack of health care access for all to poor health behaviors,” he said.
Past research has documented a substantial widening of the death gap between the United States and five European countries between 2000 and 2017. Those countries are England and Wales; France; Germany; Italy; and Spain.
Compared to those countries, growing evidence has suggested that the United States experienced even higher death rates during the pandemic.
For the new study, published online March 29 in the journal PLOS ONE, Heuveline calculated excess death rates in the United States relative to the five countries for 2017 through 2021. The calculations accounted for different population sizes between the countries.
Between 2019 and 2021, the annual number of excess deaths in the United States nearly doubled, with 45% of the rise owing to causes other than COVID-19.
In 2021, 25% of excess deaths in the United States were attributed to COVID-19 — more than 223,000 of over 892,000 total excess deaths from any cause.
More research is needed to understand specifically how the pandemic contributed to the gap, Heuveline said in a journal news release.
He suggested that research could explore differences in vaccination rates or social conditions that have a substantial impact on minority populations.
The U.S. National Center for Health Statistics has more on COVID-19 deaths in the United States.
SOURCE: PLOS ONE, news release, March 29, 2023