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Older Americans less healthy than English seniors -- but after age 65, we live longer

November 04, 2010|By Shari Roan, Los Angeles Times
  • A new study comparing older Americans' health with that of the English reflects well on U.S. healthcare but not U.S. lifestyles.
A new study comparing older Americans' health with that of the English… (Richard Hartog / Los Angeles…)

People who live in England tend to have fewer chronic illnesses from age 55 to 64 compared with Americans. But Americans and the English have similar death rates at that age range, and after age 65, Americans have somewhat better survival rates.

The conclusions come from a Rand Corp. study released Thursday in the journal Demography. Researchers explored data on the prevalence of various chronic diseases and death rates in each country. In a previous study published recently, the researchers working with this data found that Americans suffered from diabetes and other chronic diseases at twice the rates of people of a similar age in England. But Americans' poorer health status did not translate to earlier death.

"If you get sick at older ages, you will die sooner in England than in the United States," a co-author of the study, James P. Smith of Rand, said in a news release. "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."

It's possible that people in England are diagnosed at a later stage of illness than Americans and, thus, die sooner. The study also found that changes in Americans' wealth -- such as the upswing in wealth from 1992 to 2002 -- did not alter the probability of death.

This is a positive reflection on America's healthcare system and a thumbs-down on Americans' lifestyles, said co-author James Banks of the Institute for Fiscal Studies in London.

"The United States' health problem is not fundamentally a healthcare or insurance problem, at least at older ages," he said in a news release. "It is a problem of excess illness, and the solution to that problem may lie outside the healthcare delivery system. The solution may be to alter lifestyles or other behaviors."

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