British More Healthy than Americans, Study Shows

The American Journal of Epidemiology released the results of a study on March 9, 2011, analyzing the differences between Americans and the English medical care and general health. The findings were unsettling for Americans: the British are generally healthier, despite more health-care spending by the U.S.

Using data from approximately 40,000 Americans and 70,000 English residents, the study analyzed the two populations for indicators of overall health. Incidences of chronic disease, tendency toward obesity, heart and other cardiovascular problems, nutritional deficiency, diabetes, asthma, and high cholesterol were among the many negative health indicators which Americans exhibit in much higher numbers than their British counterparts.

Women in the U.S. had a much higher rate of higher blood pressure, strokes, heart attacks, and angina when compared to British women in the same age demographic; American men exhibited more incidences of heart attack and angina than British men at younger ages, and higher blood pressure than the British at older ages.

Even children in both countries showed the trend. 12% of American girls and 11% of boys from the ages of 4-11 are obese, contrasted with the 7% obesity rate in the same age group in Britain. Over 17% of U.S. children from 12-19 have asthma, whereas only 8% of English teens do. 13% of all Americans of any age have asthma, and only 6.5% of the English population is asthmatic.

“Across most of these markers of health, Americans fare worse than the English, and the health differences are just as large at very young ages as they are later in life,” says study author and postdoctoral research associate at Princeton University Melissa Martinson.

All age demographic groups over age 4 mirrored the disparity: 50.5% of English people are at a healthy weight, where only 41% of Americans are. Obesity for the total population averaged out at 29% of Americans, with the English well behind this at 18%. More Americans have high cholesterol than do the English.

In every area of indicators of health and well-being, Americans trailed residents of the U.K., regardless of age, race, and socio-economic status. Both the researchers who conducted the study and medical professionals in both countries are confounded as to exactly why this holds true so consistently, considering that Americans spend more money on health care, mostly in the form of higher-tech procedures, than any other country in the world.

If money alone were the issue, the United States should be a world leader in health. Americans make up only 5% of the planet’s population, but they spend half of the total health care dollars for the entire world. What the problem boils down to, in the best estimation by the health industry, is a major difference in lifestyles and social policy.

Generally, Americans have less access to ongoing and preventative health care, when compared to the British, who have a comprehensive, all-encompassing health system for their entire population. Although they have less tech, they probably prevent more health problems by giving their residents access to regular care. Also, the European systems give more social protection against unemployment, poverty, maternity care, and other areas which are stressors and can precipitate chronic health conditions such as stroke and high blood pressure.

“I presented this paper in England, and they were all surprised because they are known as the ‘sick’ European country,” Martinson said. “They were saying, ‘The U.S. must be doing really bad because they’re worse than us, and we’re worse than the rest of the European countries.'”

It is obvious that the American health care and health insurance industries need a wake-up call, and perhaps the results of this study could be it.