May 07, 2006
English Middle Aged More Healthy Than Americans

A RAND Corporation study finds that middle-aged people in the United States are sicker than middle-aged people in England.

Middle-aged Americans are less healthy than their English counterparts, according to a study issued today by researchers from the RAND Corporation, University College London and the Institute for Fiscal Studies in London.

Analyzing surveys of large groups of middle-aged people from the United States and England, researchers found that Americans ages 55 to 64 suffer from diseases such as diabetes, high-blood pressure and lung cancer at rates up to twice those seen among similar aged people in England.

The prevalence of diabetes was twice as high in the United States (12.5 percent) as compared to England (6.1 percent), while high blood pressure was about 10 percentage points higher in the United States than in England. Heart disease was 50 percent more common among middle-aged Americans than the English, while the rates of stroke, lung disease and cancer were higher among Americans as well.

The differences were confirmed when researchers analyzed separate studies that collected blood samples from participants to look for biological markers of disease. This showed that the differences were not just a result of Americans' increased willingness to report illness.

The study appears in the May 3 edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

“You don't expect the health of middle-aged people in these two countries to be too different, but we found that the Americans are a lot less healthy than the English,” said James P. Smith, a RAND economist and one of the study's authors. “It's not just a difference in how people characterize their own health. The biological measures confirm there is a difference.”

Reports of poorer health were seen across all economic groups in the United States in comparison to their English peers, not just among the poor who are generally seen as having more health problems.

Except for cancer, people with less income and education in both of the nations were more likely to report being sick than those with more income and education. Because of the differences between the two nations, those at the top of the education and income scale in the United States reported rates of diabetes and heart disease that were similar to those at the bottom of the scale in England.

One can't attribute this difference to a lack of access to health care in the United States because those with much more education and income in the US did about as well as those at the bottom did in England.

Researchers were concerned that any differences in health might be blamed on the higher rates of illness seen among Latinos and African-Americans in the United States, so the study included only non-Hispanic Caucasians in both countries.

Researchers say that the differences in health between the two nations is not fully explained by lifestyle factors, including smoking, drinking, excess weight and poor exercise. Smoking behavior is similar in the two nations, while excessive drinking of alcohol is more common in England.

Obesity is more common in the United States and Americans get less exercise, according to the study. But researchers estimate that those factors account for less than half of the differences seen between middle-age people from the United States and England.

The more recent rise in obesity in England means that fat people there, on average, haven't been as fat for as long as similarly fat people in the United States. This would account for the higher rates of heart disease and diabetes in the United States. More accumulation of years of being overweight gives more time for the effects of the obesity to be felt in insulin metabolism and the circulatory system.

Researchers say that past differences in health risk factors may be one explanation for the disparities seen in the middle-aged people covered by the study.

Rising obesity has occurred in the United Kingdom only recently, with the incidence increasing from 7 percent in 1980 to 23 percent in 2003. Meanwhile, the prevalence of obesity in the United States rose from 16 percent to 31 percent during the same period.

“It may be that America's longer history of obesity or differences in childhood experiences create the problems seen among middle-aged Americans,” said study co-author James Banks, an economist at University College London. “This may mean that over time the gap between England and the United States may begin to close.”

This suggests that health of the middle aged will decline in Britain in coming decades with more heart disease and diabetes.

The growing popularity of statin drugs to control cholesterol combined with the development of other drugs to fight obesity and type II insulin-resistant diabetes will eventually reverse this trend.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2006 May 07 07:09 PM  Aging Studies

John Anderson said at May 8, 2006 6:22 AM:

``The differences were confirmed when researchers analyzed separate studies that collected blood samples from participants to look for biological markers of disease. This showed that the differences were not just a result of Americans' increased willingness to report illness.``

How so? The participants were, after all, those who were willing to discover/report illness...

I do not really doubt there are differences, but the abstract seems a bit off: could be reporting.

Robert Schwartz said at May 8, 2006 1:06 PM:

Smile when you say that

Jake said at May 8, 2006 8:50 PM:

They have really boring TV in the UK. So the Brits are out and about more and not spending their lives on the couch.

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