May 2, 2006

British healthier than Americans in middle age: study

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Considerably more middle-aged Americans
suffer from chronic illnesses than their British counterparts,
probably because more Americans are obese, researchers said on

"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
Smith, a RAND economist and one of the study's authors.

An analysis of health surveys showed the prevalence of
diabetes and cancer were nearly twice as high among white
American 55- to 64-year-olds than British in that age group.

Heart disease was 50 percent more common in the United
States than in Britain, and rates of stroke, high blood
pressure and lung disease were more common among middle-aged
Americans as well.

African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans were excluded from
the study because those populations would have skewed the U.S.
illness rates even higher, the report said.

In weighing the source of the health gap, the researchers
said the answer most likely stemmed from higher U.S. rates of
obesity and Americans' tendency to avoid exercise -- though the
English were catching up.

The prevalence of obesity in the United States rose to 31
percent in 2003 from 16 percent in 1980, while U.K. obesity
rates increased to 23 percent from 7 percent in the same

"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."

Smoking rates were similar in the two countries, while
excessive drinking was more common in England, said the study
published in the Journal of American Medical Association.

Based on income and education, illnesses except for cancer
were more common among the less well-off in both countries.

"The less education and income people had the worse their
health," study co-author Michael Marmot of University College
London said.

"We cannot blame either bad lifestyle or inadequate medical
care as the main culprits in these socioeconomic differences in
health. We should look for explanation to the circumstances in
which people live and work."

Overall, 15 percent of middle-aged Americans suffered from
heart disease compared to 10 percent of their British
counterparts, diabetes afflicted 12.5 percent of Americans
versus 7 percent of the British, and cancer hit 9.5 percent of
the Americans compared to 5.4 percent of the British.

The surveys were conducted between 1999 and 2003.