Though Americans know what's "good" for them, few act on it. Although we are less likely to smoke and drink heavily than our peers, we consume more calories, have higher rates of drug abuse, are less likely to use seat belts and are more likely to use guns in acts of violence, according to the report.
Most high-income countries report income and education disparities in their health care system. But the panel said Americans benefit much less from social programs that could negate the effects of poverty.
"In countries with the most favorable health outcomes, resource investments and infrastructure often reflect a strong societal commitment to the health and welfare of the entire population," the report states.
Our environment is also a big contributor to Americans' poor health, the panel said. U.S. communities are built around automobiles, discouraging physical activity and increasing traffic accidents. Contraceptives are only available by prescription, instead of over the counter. Even stress could play a role -- adding to our waistlines, substance abuse and criminal behavior.
"It would be a mistake for people to respond to this by saying we need to spend more money on health care," Woolf said. He noted that our peer countries spend significantly less, but appear to be spending it more effectively.
With "lives and dollars" at stake, the report made several recommendations for the future.
The experts asked the National Institutes of Health to join with international partners to improve the quality of research that could be used to compare peer countries around the world.
They also recommended the NIH commission research on health policies that have been successful in our peer countries that could potentially be used in the United States.
Waiting for more research isn't the answer, Woolf said. Individuals can make changes now, listening to advice about healthy diets and exercise, or making sure to wear their seat belts. As for policy, the panel hopes this report will open a broader discussion about what we value as a nation.