Healthy living

Brits healthier than Americans, but die sooner

Brits more healthy than Americans, but die sooner Lifestyle diseases affect both

Despite being healthier than their American counterparts, older people in England die earlier, according to a new study.

Although older Americans suffer from higher rates of chronic diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure and cancer, Americans aged between 55 and 64 die at around the same age as older people in England, the study found.

But Americans aged 65 and over have a lower death rate than similar people in England, despite being sicker. Researchers at the Institute of Fiscal Studies and the Rand Corporation say the different approaches to healthcare in the US and UK may be behind the figures.

"If you get sick at older ages, you will die sooner in England than in the United States," said James P Smith, chair in labour markets and demographic studies at RAND.

"It appears that at least in terms of survival at older ages with chronic disease, the medical system in the United States may be better than the system in England."

Previous research by the same team found that Americans between 55 and 64 suffered from diseases such as diabetes at up to twice the rate which occurred in similar aged people in England. The trend was observed across all socioeconomic groups.

In the new study, they researchers analysed data from surveys of people aged 50 and over in the United States and England - 20,000 people in the US Health and Retirement Survey and 12,000 in the English Longitudinal Survey of Ageing.

The findings showed that Americans both suffered from higher rates of chronic diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, heart attack, stroke, cancer and lung diseases compared to the English.

The same diseases also began at an earlier age in Americans compared to their English peers.

Despite this, death rates among Americans were about the same in younger age groups but lower at older ages compared to the English.

Researchers suggested that either the illnesses studied caused a higher number of deaths in England than in the United States or that people in England are diagnosed at a later stage of disease than occurs in the US.

Mr Smith said both explanations suggest the US has higher-quality medical care than England.

However, co-author James Banks from the Institute of Fiscal Studies said that the major problem was not one of health care: "It is a problem of excess illness and the solution to that problem may lie outside the health care delivery system. The solution may be to alter lifestyles or other behaviours."

The study findings are published in the journal Demography.

This article was published on Thu 4 November 2010

Image © Yuri Arcurs -

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