The High Cost of Bad Habits: English and American Health Disparities Offer Lifestyle Lessons

Article excerpt

The United States and England each has a major--and unique--health-care challenge, according to a study comparing the health of senior citizens in the two countries. The study, conducted by researchers from the RAND Corporation in the United States and the Institute for Fiscal Studies in the United Kingdom, found that disease and health disorder incidence was higher among U.S. senior citizens, but mortality rates were higher among English senior citizens.

Americans ages 65 and older have almost twice the rate of diabetes found among their English counterparts and more than double the rate of cancer. Nevertheless, the death rate among Americans 65 and older is lower.

"Americans are a sicker group of people who tend to live longer," says James Smith, a study co-author. He attributes the U.S. health problems to lifestyle factors, including poor eating habits and inadequate exercise. Americans tend to eat much larger servings of food, for example. "There is what I call an American plate. When we go to a restaurant, it's a plate I can't even eat anymore. It's a plate with so much food on it it's not even appealing to me."

The World Health Organization (WHO) offers ample evidence of Americans' bigger food servings: The obesity rate is 34% among U.S. adults, compared with 23% of English adults.

Smith also says that English adults are generally more physically active than Americans. Biking and walking are much more common in everyday life in England. He observes that "there is a lot of walking in London, and there is a lot of bicycle riding. I don't see people in downtown Los Angeles on their bicycles."

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On the other hand, England's problem is that doctors fail to diagnose serious conditions early enough. American doctors tend to screen patients for cancer, diabetes, and other illnesses more frequently. Smith notes: "American medicine is much more aggressive. It leads to high costs, but it has benefits, too. …