British Population Healthier Than U.S. Population
U.S. residents over age 55 are "much sicker" than British residents in the same age group -- with higher rates of diabetes, heart attack, stroke, lung disease and cancer -- according to a study published on Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the New York Times reports.
Researchers from University College-London studied U.S. and British health surveys to compare the health of people ages 55 to 64, as well as their social and economic status. The researchers found that diabetes was about twice as prevalent in the U.S. as it was in Britain, and hypertension was 10% more common in the U.S.
In addition, they found that obesity rates were "much higher" in the U.S. than in Britain, although the British were more likely to be heavy drinkers. The researchers found that about 20% of people ages 55 to 64 in both countries smoked.
According to the researchers, although both countries' wealthier and better-educated populations were much more likely to be healthy than their poorer and less-educated populations, "differences in socioeconomic groups between the two countries were so great that those in the top education and income level in the U.S. had similar rates of diabetes and heart disease as those in the bottom education and income level in England" (Cowell, New York Times, 5/3).
They added that when minorities were removed from the study and adjustments were made for education and income, whites in Britain were healthier than U.S. whites. The U.S. spends about $5,200 per person annually on health care, while Britain spends about half that much, according to the AP/Chicago Sun-Times.
Michael Marmot, a UCL epidemiologist and study co-author, said, "At every point in the social hierarchy there is more illness in the United States than in England and the differences are really quite dramatic."
Some experts attributed the study's results to a higher level of primary care in Britain than in the U.S. (Johnson/Stobbe, AP/Chicago Sun-Times, 5/3). However, the researchers said that "health insurance cannot be the central reason for better health outcomes in England because the top socioeconomic-status tier of the U.S. population have close to universal access but their health outcomes are often worse than those of their English counterparts."
Marmot said the "usual suspects" for disease -- such as smoking, obesity and alcohol use -- were not primary reasons for the disparity. He added, "I'm arguing that it's due to the differences in the circumstances in which people live. Work, job, insecurity, the nature of communities, residential communities, et cetera -- I think that's the place we should try to look" (New York Times, 5/3).
An abstract of the study is available online.
"The World" -- a production of BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH Boston -- on Tuesday reported on the study. The segment includes comments from co-author James Smith (Mullins, "The World," PRI, 5/2).
The complete segment is available online in Windows Media.
NPR's "Morning Edition" on Wednesday reported on the study. The segment includes comments from Lisa Berkman, a social epidemiologist at Harvard University; Marmot; and Smith (Silberner, "Morning Edition," NPR, 5/3).
A transcript of the segment is available online. The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.