Wednesday, May 03, 2006

So... WHY would Brits be healthier than Americans?

I'm not entirely sure why they did this research, but it's apparently been shown that Americans are less healthy than their British counterparts.

"Americans aged 55 to 64 are up to twice as likely to suffer from diabetes, lung cancer and high blood pressure as English people of the same age"
Or so the report starts.

t wasn't even a study by Brits, this comes from the US itself - from the Journal of the American Medical Association. Nor is it related to something obvious like income levels, because the groups were carefully divided by income, so they compared wealthy Americans with similarly wealthy Brits, and so on. In both countries, the wealthier people were more healthy than the least wealthy, which is probably not surprising. People with more money are more likely to be well educated and aware of the benefits of healthy lifestyles. They can afford good quality food and relaxing holidays, and are less likely to live in cramped houses.

"The healthiest Americans had similar disease rates to the least healthy English."
That's pretty scary. And they don't seem to know why. Cigarette smoking habits were very similar between the two countries. Alcohol drinking levels were higher in the UK. Obviously for the lower income people in the USA, there's not much access to health care, but the wealthiest groups in American probably have good insurance, or can pay for medical treatment. And the illnesses they're talking about aren't really related to health care anyway. They're not talking about how many people die from these diseases, but how many develop them in the first place.

The report also takes into account the obesity levels in the USA which are generally higher than in the UK - but that, apparently, doesn't help explain the difference either.

What surprises me is that they don't mention nutrition. When we lived in the USA for a couple of years in the early 1990s, we were appalled at how few people seemed to cook 'proper' food. Of course, it's going that way in the UK too, with fast foods becoming cheaper, and packaged mixes in the supermarkets. But when I was growing up in the UK, in the 1960s and 1970s, all cooking was done 'from scratch' as they call it in the USA - ie using ingredients. That's what I still consider ordinary cooking. But our friends in the USA seemed to use cake mixes and pudding mixes and other 'instant' foods which were packed with preservatives and colourants and other such junk. They told me such things had been around for a long time, so perhaps people of 55-64 in the USA grew up with them in their diet.

By contrast, people of that age in the UK were children during or just after World War II when there was still food rationing. No white flour, very little sugar, and of course absolutely no imported or instant rubbish. There wasn't much meat, and people often filled up with bread and dripping, but there were vegetables and some fruit, locally grown, and many people kept eggs. It's often been said by health-food faddists that it's better to be a bit hungry than too eat too much, and that a simple diet is the healthiest. Perhaps we're finally seeing that this is the case...


itsboopchile said...

Is it possible we eat too much fat and junk? Sweets are our downfall and even steak and hot dogs. Do the English eat like we do?
Maybe it is the tea. I drink tea, never even tasted coffee and very little soda pop. But I know that is not the norm here.
If you find the answer, let me know.
See you, Betty G

Steve Hayes said...

I remember discussions on Worldchat and Off Topic when you were in Colorado, and compared the US healthcare system unfavourably with the British NHS, and Americans simply could not believe it.

But on the one hand you have very expensive surgical miracles for rather rare conditions, and on the other basic affordable health care for the vast majority of people.

I think I'll blog about this in my blog!