Americans are less healthy than the English but live just as long. Researchers at the Institute of Fiscal Studies, London found that while Americans aged 55 to 64 had higher levels of chronic diseases than their English counterparts, their mortality rate was about the same.
The research was based on two surveys of people aged 50 and over in the US and England- the Health and Retirement Survey and the English Longitudinal Survey of Ageing. As well as analysing survey data, researchers examined illness and death rates among those aged 55 to 80. They also looked at the onset of new illnesses, including diabetes, high-blood pressure, chronic lung diseases and cancer from 2002 to 2006.
They found that diabetes rates were almost double in the US and cancer prevalence more than twice as high. In spite of this, death rates among Americans were about the same at the younger ages in this period of life and actually lower at older ages compared to the English.
“If you get sick at older ages, you will die sooner in England than in the US,” said James Smith, who co-authored the study with James Banks. “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.”
Researchers say there are two possible explanations for the results. Either the illnesses studied resulted in higher mortality in England, or Americans were diagnosed at an earlier stage of the disease.
“Both of these explanations imply that there is higher-quality medical care in the United States than in England, at least in the sense that these chronic illnesses are less likely to cause death among people living in the United States,” Smith said.
However, researchers concluded that in order to curb illness rates, Americans needed to look to prevention of disease rather than just treatment.
“It is a problem of excess illness and the solution to that problem may lie outside the health care delivery system. The solution may be to alter lifestyles or other behaviours,” said Banks.