Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Sick Americans: cost and cause

Years ago a Canadian study found the treatment of common surgical and medical diseases was significantly better in Canada than in the US. So Canadians didn't only live longer, they also received better healthcare (on average).

Now middle-aged white English seem quite a bit healthier than similar Americans:
Health in America and Britain | Transatlantic rivals | Economist.com

... the comparison was between Americans and the English. Scots, with their notoriously high rates of heart disease, were conveniently excluded by the choice of the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing as the source of the British data, as were the Welsh and the Northern Irish. With this caveat, Dr Marmot's research revealed that people who are between 55 and 64 years of age are a lot sicker in America than they are in England (see chart). Diabetes is twice as common: 12.5% of Americans suffer from it, compared with 6.1% in England. Cancer is nearly twice as prevalent in America, while heart disease is half as high again.
The main environmental suspect is lack of activity and something dietary. Certainly genetics is a suspect too, maybe white Americans are too much like the Scots. A heck of a lot of English men died on the bloody fields of France 100 years ago -- were there recent severe selection pressures? A comparison with Canada might help.

The Economist makes the interesting point that US healthcare spending may, in part, be higher than the rest of the wealthy world because white Americans are a sickly bunch.

Update 5/9: Thinking about this further, I'm betting it's genetic and the key factor is resistance to diabetes. We already suspect that northern europeans are diabetes resistant compared to most human populations. My bet is the English are particularly resistant.

Update 5/10: My mother, who is English, ascribes any health improvements to drinking large volumes of black tea. She also claims that, irregardless of any helpful resistance to diabetes, the English are cursed with awful tooth and jaw development.

So is tea good for the islet cells? Who knows ...

Update 5/12: Or maybe walking is much more beneficial than we'd thought ... or lack of sleep is much more harmful than we'd realized ...

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