Study: Chronic Diseases Twice as Likely in U.S. as Europe
Older U.S. adults are twice as likely as older European adults to have a number of chronic diseases, many of which are related to obesity and smoking, according to a study published Tuesday on the Web site of the journal Health Affairs, the Los Angeles Times reports (Girion, Los Angeles Times, 10/2).
For the study, researchers from the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University examined information from 2004 on the treatment of chronic diseases among adults ages 50 and older in the U.S. and 10 European nations -- Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland (Lopes, Washington Times, 10/2). The study found:
- Older U.S. adults were twice as likely as older European adults to have heart disease;
- Older U.S. adults were more than twice as likely as older European adults to have arthritis (Los Angeles Times, 10/2);
- 12.2% of older U.S. adults had cancer, compared with 5.4% of older European adults (Washington Times, 10/2);
- 16% of older U.S. adults had diabetes, compared with 11% of older European adults;
- 33.1% of older U.S. adults were classified as obese, compared with 17.1% of older European adults; and
- 53% of older U.S. adults were active or former smokers, compared with 43% of older European adults.
According to the study, in the event that the rate of 10 chronic diseases among older U.S. adults decreased to the rate among older European adults, U.S. health care costs would decrease by $100 billion to $150 billion annually. The study recommended that the U.S. promote healthy diets and other measures to prevent chronic diseases to reduce health care costs (Los Angeles Times, 10/2).
Lead study author Kenneth Thorpe, chair of the Health Policy and Management Department at Emory, said, "We expected to see differences between disease prevalence in the United States and Europe, but the extent of the differences is surprising," adding, "It is possible that we spend more on health care because we are, indeed, less healthy" (Washington Times, 10/2). In addition, he said, "I think the big difference is the doubling of obesity rates," adding, "If you look at the doctor-diagnosed rates of diabetes and other chronic diseases related to obesity, it's just startling."
Thorpe also said the U.S. health care system does not promote measures to prevent chronic diseases or effective disease management programs. He said, "We wait for people to get sick. They show up. We treat them. And doctors and hospitals get paid. That's not a very good way for managing diseases" (Los Angeles Times, 10/2). The study is available online.