UN public health data

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Figure 1. Life expectancy at birth in selected countries and regions since 1950. w = World. la = Latin America and the Caribbean. jp = Japan. cu = Cuba. ee = Eastern Europe. ne = Northern Europe. se = Southern Europe. we = Western Europe. ca = Canada. us = United States of America.[1]
Figure 2. Infant mortality (deaths among the first year of live births) in selected countries and regions since 1950. w = World. la = Latin America and the Caribbean. jp = Japan. cu = Cuba. ee = Eastern Europe. ne = Northern Europe. se = Southern Europe. we = Western Europe. ca = Canada. us = United States of America.[2]

Figures 1 and 2 show life expectancy at birth and infant mortality in selected countries and aggregations of countries since 1950 according to the data from the United Nations World Population Prospects. Details of how these figures were produced are provided in an R Markdown vignette in an appendix giving R code for how to download and produce these and related plots.

Microsoft Excel files downloaded from that United Nations website 2020-11-22 included data on 255 different countries and aggregations of countries for years 1950-1955, 1955-1960, ..., 2015-2020. The author of this article decided to focus on the World (w), Latin America and the Caribbean (la), Japan (jp), Cuba (cu), Eastern Europe (ee), Northern Europe (ne), Southern Europe (se), Western Europe (we), Canada (ca), and the United States of America (us). This article including the accompanying R Markdown vignette in the appendix should make it relatively easy for anyone with a computer and internet access to produce similar plots for a different selection of countries and aggregations of countries and to update these plots at a future date using updates to the UN data used for these plots.

The US was clearly among the world leaders by these two public health measures in 1950. Since then, however, the US has failed to keep up with Japan, Canada, Northern, Western, and Southern Europe in these measures of public health.

Different people will doubtless offer different explanations for the differences in how these measures of public health have evolved since 1950. One interpretation, consistent with the discussion in "Confirmation bias and conflict" is as follows:

  • Japan, Canada, and Northern, Western and Southern Europe generally had substantially higher public subsidies for media than the US with effective limits on political interference in how issues that impact public health are reported in the mainstream media.
  • The US has had much smaller public subsidies for media than most if not all of Japan, Canada, and Northern, Western and Southern Europe. Instead, the mainstream media in the US has been primarily funded by advertising, and the so-called ethical health care industry and insurance companies advertise. This gave the US media a conflict of interest in reporting on anything in a way that might offend a major advertiser. As a result, the coverage of such issues may have been biased more in the US than in most of Japan, Canada, and Northern, Western and Southern Europe.
  • Meanwhile the mainstream media in Eastern Europe and the rest of the world had less editorial independence from the short term interests of people in power, and so continue to lag behind Japan, Canada, and Northern, Western and Southern Europe.
  • An outlier in this interpretation is Cuba, whose life expectancy has almost matched that of the US since 1970, and whose infant mortality rate has been better than that of the US since 2000. The standard explanation for this is that the Communist government of Cuba has placed a much higher priority on public health that other countries with comparable productivity.

Other interpretations may be possible. This article is posted to Wikiversity in an effort to invite a broad range discussion of other possible interpretations of the phenomena summarized in Figures 1 and 2.

Appendix. Companion R Markdown vignette[edit | edit source]

Statistical details that make the research in article reproducible are provided in an R Markdown vignette on "UN public health data/Plotting countries and aggregations of countries in UN public health data".

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. Life Expectancy at Birth (e0) - Both Sexes in Mortality data in United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, World Population Prospects, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Wikidata Q41274869.
  2. Infant Mortality Rate (IMR) in Mortality data in United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, World Population Prospects, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Wikidata Q41274869.