Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Blame it on the National Health

by Ken Houghton

Better teeth = more fat? Or is the teeth thing a myth as well?
Considerably more middle-aged Americans suffer from chronic illnesses than their British counterparts, probably because more Americans are obese, researchers said on Tuesday.

"You don't expect the health of middle-aged people in these two countries to be too different, but we found that the Americans are a lot less healthy than the English," said James Smith, a RAND economist and one of the study's authors.

So what diseases are we discussing?
An analysis of health surveys showed the prevalence of diabetes and cancer were nearly twice as high among white American 55- to 64-year-olds than British in that age group.

Heart disease was 50 percent more common in the United States than in Britain, and rates of stroke, high blood pressure and lung disease were more common among middle-aged Americans as well.

Is there is "good" news?
African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans were excluded from the study because those populations would have skewed the U.S. illness rates even higher, the report said.

About that obesity...
In weighing the source of the health gap, the researchers said the answer most likely stemmed from higher U.S. rates of obesity and Americans' tendency to avoid exercise -- though the English were catching up.

The prevalence of obesity in the United States rose to 31 percent in 2003 from 16 percent in 1980, while U.K. obesity rates increased to 23 percent from 7 percent in the same period.

And the "sin" contributors?
Smoking rates were similar in the two countries, while excessive drinking was more common in England, said the study published in the Journal of American Medical Association.

And to end on a cheery note
"The less education and income people had the worse their health," study co-author Michael Marmot of University College London said.

"We cannot blame either bad lifestyle or inadequate medical care as the main culprits in these socioeconomic differences in health. We should look for explanation to the circumstances in which people live and work."

Joe Klein*, are you listening?
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