Ali Zifan / Wikimedia

The US in the World by the Numbers

The United States has just 4.4% of the world’s population. We wonder: On which one of the following issues does the U.S. account for the largest share globally — in fact, a share that is almost ten times its population size?

A. Suicides
B. Obesity
C. CO2 emissions
D. Prisoners
E. Opioids
F. Guns

A. Suicides … is not correct.

The U.S. share of suicides worldwide is slightly higher than the U.S. share of the world population – 5.5% compared to 4.4%, according to CDC and World Health Organization data.

Worldwide, 800,000 people commit suicide each year. About 44,000 of these occur in the United States.

B. Obesity … is not correct.

About 11% of the world’s obese population can be found in the United States, as of 2015 data published in the New England Journal of Medicine. That is 2.5 times higher than the U.S. share of the global population.

Globally, 94.7 million of the 710 million overweight people worldwide who qualify as obese are American adults or children (79.4 million are adults.)

In absolute numbers, China has the next-largest number of obese adults, with 57.3 million. Among the world’s 20 most populous countries, the highest proportional rates of adult obesity can be found in the United States (36%), Turkey and Egypt (32% each), Mexico (29%) and Iran (26%), according to the World Factbook.

C. CO2 emissions … is not correct.

The United States emits 14% of the world’s carbon dioxide, according to the Emission Database for Global Atmospheric Research. That is three times its 4.4% share of the world population.

In their aggregate, the United States’ CO2 emissions are in line with the country’s 15% share of the global economy (when measured on a PPP basis).

However, on a per person basis, the average American’s carbon emissions – at 16.1 tons — are more than three times the global average of 4.9 tons. Among large developed countries, only Australia’s per capita emissions remain higher.

In the past, the United States accounted for an even larger share of CO2 emissions overall – 23% as recently as 2005. The net decline in total U.S. emissions since then is the result of actions such as decommissioning the country’s oldest, most carbon-intensive power plants, increasing auto fuel efficiency standards (and driving less), as well as substituting cleaner-burning natural gas for coal.

D. Prisoners … is not correct.

The United States is home to about 25% of the world’s total prison population – over 5.5 times its share of the overall world population.

The United States incarcerates about 2.3 million people annually, as of 2016, according to the Prison Policy Initiative.

There are more than 1,700 state prisons, more than 100 federal prisons (not including special detention centers), more than 900 juvenile facilities and more than 3,100 local jails.

These facilities are a major economic hub, especially for jobs, in thousands of communities across the country. That makes it politically difficult to promote detention and sentencing reform policies that would reduce the need for them.

E. Prescription opioid supply … is not correct.

Every day, 50,000 opioid doses are prescribed for every one million Americans, according to the International Narcotics Control Board. Overall, Americans consume 30% of the global prescription opioid supply. That is 6.8 times the U.S. share of the global population.

Opioid addiction in the United States often stems initially from improperly prescribed or managed pharmaceutical pain relief.

Overall, 64,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2016. The United States thus accounts for a 27% share of global overdoses, according to the UNODC. 14,400 of those deaths are due to prescription opioids – almost as many as the 15,400 people that died from heroin. A further 20,100 died from the opioid fentanyl or analogues.

F. Guns … is correct.

As of 2012, Americans owned at least 270 million U.S.-owned firearms (or 42% of all firearms worldwide), according to the Small Arms Survey. That is almost ten times the 4.4% U.S. share of the world population.

Credible estimates suggest that number and share might even be much higher. The Washington Post estimated in 2013, based on projections from earlier government data, that there were actually 357 million U.S.guns.

If true, that would mean more than one gun per person. And it would mean Americans own just over half of all guns worldwide.

In reality, gun ownership is quite concentrated. Fewer than one in three Americans owns any guns at all. Half of the U.S. guns (or as much as a quarter of the guns worldwide) are owned by merely 3% of Americans. While the average U.S. gun owner owns three, those 3% own eight to 140 guns.

During President Barack Obama’s two terms in office, gun manufacturers marketed guns heavily to people who opposed Obama’s support for stricter gun control. Gun ownership in the United States often went up during that period, even after major mass shootings, for fear of future restrictions.

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