British Healthier than Americans
British flag.
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Middle-aged English people are healthier than Americans of similar age, a new study reveals.

Despite the fact that the United States spends more on medical care per capita than the United Kingdom—$5,274 compared to $2,164—Americans ages 55 to 64 suffer from higher rates of many life-threatening diseases and conditions than their counterparts across the Atlantic.

A new study—limited to non-Hispanic whites—compared both reported and documented health data of nearly 6,500 Americans and more than 9,000 Brits.

What ails us

At 12.5 percent, diabetes prevalence was twice as high in the United States and hypertension was about 10 percentage points higher. Heart disease was also 50 percent higher among Americans, while the rates of stroke, lung disease, and cancer were higher as well.

"You don't expect the health of middle-aged people in these two countries to be too different, but we found that the English are a lot healthier than the Americans," said study co-author James Smith of the RAND Corporation, an independent research organization.

The team of English and American researchers also concluded that Americans get less exercise and are more frequently obese, while excessive drinking is more common in England. Smoking habits are similar in both countries.

Income a key

They also noted that in both countries, the less education and income people had, the worse their health, which may be the key to understanding the observed differences.

"We cannot blame either bad lifestyle or inadequate medical care as the main culprits of these socioeconomic differences in health," said co-author Sir Michael Marmot of University College London. "We should look for explanation to the circumstances in which people live and work."

The study is detailed in the May 3 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.