Brits Healthier Than Americans, Study Says

Brian Handwerk
for National Geographic News
Updated May 4, 2006

Health-conscious Americans may want to reach for a plate of fish and chips or a pint of ale after digesting the results of a new study.

Older British citizens are far healthier than their U.S. counterparts—even though twice as much is spent on health care per person in the United States annually. That's according to a study published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

(Related story: "British Have Changed Little Since Ice Age, Gene Study Says.")

The study's authors are unable to explain the heath gap.

"Everybody should be discussing it: Why isn't the richest country in the world the healthiest country in the world?" co-author Michael Marmot asked in an interview with the Associated Press. Marmot is an epidemiologist at University College London.

Marmot and colleagues found that middle-aged to older Americans were twice as likely to have diabetes and 10 percent more likely to be afflicted by hypertension than their British counterparts. Americans also displayed higher rates of heart disease, heart attack, stroke, lung disease, and cancer.

Experts have known for years that the U.S. lags behind other developed countries in some key health indicators.

The World Health Organization examined the 23 countries that spent the most money per capita on health care in 2001. While the U.S. outspent everyone, only the Czech Republic had a lower "healthy life expectancy"—that is, total average life expectancy minus the average number of years of illness.

But this new study reveals that even those Americans receiving the nation's best care fall short of British health standards. (See Britain maps and facts.)

Wealth, Education Not Factors

Marmot's team compared whites aged 55 to 64. The researchers did not examine minorities, who tend to have poorer overall health, but did survey people of varied income and education levels.

"This is the first time, to my knowledge, that anyone has shown this is true even for upper-income people—which means that it's not money that makes the difference," said Barbara Starfield, University Distinguished Professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. Starfield is not affiliated with the new study.

Continued on Next Page >>


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