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Study Shows Americans Sicker Than English
Americans reported twice the rate of diabetes compared to the English, 12.5 percent versus 6 percent. For high blood pressure, it was 42 percent for Americans versus 34 percent for the English; cancer showed up in 9.5 percent of Americans compared to 5.5 percent of the English.
The upper crust in both countries was healthier than middle-class and low-income people in the same country. But richer Americans' health status resembled the health of the low-income English.
"It's something of a mystery," said Richard Suzman of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, which helped fund the study.
Health experts have known the U.S. population is less healthy than that of other industrialized nations, according to several important measurements, including life expectancy. The U.S. ranks behind about two dozen other countries, according to the World Health Organization.
Some have believed the United States has lagged because it is more ethnically diverse, said Suzman, who heads the National Institute on Aging's Behavioral and Social Research Program. "Minority health in general is worse than white health," he said.
But the new study showed that when minorities are removed from the equation, and adjustments are made to control for education and income, white people in England are still healthier than white people in the United States.
"As far as I know, this is the first study showing this," said Suzman. The study, supported by grants from government agencies in both countries, was published in Wednesday's Journal of the American Medical Association.
Other studies have measured the United States against other countries in terms of health care spending, use of medical care and availability of health care services. But this is the first to focus on prevalence of chronic conditions, said Anderson, the Johns Hopkins professor.
Differences in exercise might partly explain the gap, he suggested. One of the study's authors, Jim Smith, said the English exercise somewhat more than Americans. But physical activity differences won't fully explain the study's results, he added.
Marmot offered a different explanation for the gap: Americans' financial insecurity. Improvements in household income have eluded all but the top fifth of Americans since the mid-1970s. Meanwhile, the English saw their incomes improve, he said.
Robert Blendon, a professor of health policy at the Harvard School of Public Health who was not involved in the study, said the stress of striving for the American dream may account for Americans' lousy health.
"The opportunity to go both up and down the socioeconomic scale in America may create stress," Blendon said. Americans don't have a reliable government safety net like the English enjoy, Blendon said.