By Christian Soto

As our country grapples with the all-consuming effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released an important statistic reflecting America’s baseline health in relation to surviving the virus. The CDC stated that 94 percent of those who have died from COVID-19 in the last seven months had other health conditions that also contributed to their deaths.

This information is not necessarily surprising, as medical experts have confirmed all along that COVID-19 would have a more severe impact on individuals with underlying conditions. However it must be noted that despite the high cost of health care in the U.S., the people who live here are in relatively poor health, as compared to other developed nations, making us more susceptible to infectious diseases.

The numbers are clear. Worldwide there have been 31 million cases of the virus and 962,000 deaths, yet the U.S. accounts for nearly 20 percent of all cases, with more than 7 million cases and 204,000 deaths. According to the John Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, the U.S. has the fifth highest fatality rate per every 100,000 affected individuals. Bloomberg Healthiest Country Index places the U.S. at 35 out of 169 countries behind Cuba (30), Chile and Costa Rica (tied for 33) despite disproportionate funding for healthcare in these countries. On average, the U.S. spent roughly double the amount of money per individual in 2017 compared to other nations. To further highlight our poor health, the CDC estimates that 6 out of every 10 adults in the U.S. suffers from a chronic condition, and that four in 10 adults have two or more chronic conditions. These chronic conditions include heart disease, cancer, chronic lung disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and chronic kidney disease, and drive the nation’s $3.5 trillion in annual health care costs.

This combination of poor health and expensive healthcare is also true for the Buffalo Niagara region. The Population Health Collaborative estimated that the Buffalo Niagara region spent roughly $1.3 billion in healthcare expenses related to chronic diseases resulting in $1.2 billion in lost productivity.

According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation county health rankings, Erie county ranks 56 out of 62 in New York state. To address our region’s poor health, the Wellness Institute of Greater Buffalo and Western New York recently launched Healthy Communities 2030, a decade-long initiative to promote environmental, economic, social, and healthy human capital through advocacy, activities, workshops, and education. To learn more about Healthy Communities 2030! please visit

Christian Soto is a team member of Healthy Communities 2030!