Are Americans healthier than English people? Certainly not, but they do live slightly longer.
This paradoxical situation is described in a new report in the journal Demography and reported in today's Daily Telegraph. People in the US are twice as likely to contract diabetes and a third more likely to develop cancer than those among similar aged people in England.
The study, co-authored by the Institute for Fiscal Studies in London, involved analysing information from two comparable surveys of people aged 50 and over in the United States and England – 20,000 people in the US Health and Retirement Survey and 12,000 people in the English Longitudinal Survey of Ageing.
They found that on average American people aged 55 to 64 were between a third and a half more likely to suffer from one or more of the following chronic diseases: diabetes, high-blood pressure, heart disease, heart attack, stroke, chronic lung diseases and cancer. Diabetes rates were more than twice as high in the United States as in England (12.07 per cent versus 5.88 per cent) and cancer prevalence was more than third as high in the United States (9.57 per cent compared to 5.48 per cent) for people aged 55 to 64. Despite this, both sets of pensioners had a similar life expectancy (82 for men, 85 for women) with Americans actually living on average a few months longer.
It appears that at least in terms of survival at older ages with chronic disease, the medical system in the United States may be better than the system in England. Why is this? it is a case of throwing more money at a problem. Official figures from the OECD show that America spends 16 per cent of its GDP on health care compared with 8.7 per cent in England. As a result, the American system is much more likely to aggressively screen and treat diseases, no matter how much it costs. Americans are much sicker but they make up for it with much more aggressive and expensive health care.