Middle-aged Americans are in much worse health than their English counterparts, suggests a trans-Atlantic comparison, and scientists are at a loss to explain why. The new study, which compared the health of white, 55 to 64-year-olds in the two countries, found that diabetes is twice as common in the United States compared with England, cancer 70% more prevalent and heart disease more than 50% more widespread. People in the healthiest, high-income and education bracket in the United States have comparable rates of heart disease and diabetes as those in the sickest, low-income group in England, the study shows.
The differences were so great that at first “it seemed implausible”, says James Smith of the RAND corporation in Santa Monica, California, and senior author of the Journal of the American Medical Association study. “We did not expect to find this.” The explanation doesn’t seem to be down to the facts that Americans are fatter or that the British drink more alcohol, the researchers say. When they ran their health data through a model to make both groups have equivalent levels of obesity, smoking and drinking, the health differences only lessened slightly. Instead, the difference could stem from poor childhood health or adult stress, they say. And that could serve as a caution to other countries that are increasingly adopting the eating and lifestyle patterns of the United States. “It may be a warning signal,” Smith says.