Saturday, July 08, 2006

U.S. Health: Spend More, Get Less

Here are some facts that don’t fit with the U.S. perception that because we’re richer and spend more on health care (by a long shot) than any other society, we’re healthier.

Nice try. No cigar.

The facts are as clear as they are ugly. Compared to Brits, who drink more, we Americans are:

- twice as likely to have diabetes

- 10 percent more likely to be afflicted by hypertension (high blood pressure)

- more likely to suffer from heart disease, heart attacks, strokes, lung diseases, and cancer.

Our money doesn’t bring us happiness. It doesn’t bring us health, either. The World Health Organization reports that of the 23 countries that spend the most money per capita on health care, only the Czech Republic has a lower ‘healthy life expectancy,’ that is total average years of life minus the average number of years of illness.)

And, while we’re dealing with mythology, let’s up the ante -- the U.S. health care system – the one reputed (by medical professionals and insurance companies mostly) as the “best in the world.” Again, without rendering the language meaningless, Americans are not receiving the world’s “best” care. If they were then rich Americans would not fall short of British health standards. Indeed, "differences in socioeconomic groups between the two countries were so great that those in the top education and income level in the U.S. had similar rates of diabetes and heart disease as those in the bottom education and income level in England," concluded the Journal of the American Medical Association.

With the study controlled for smoking, drinking, and obesity, differences in unhealthy lifestyles are unlikely the culprits. Which is not to say that lifestyle differences may not be a factor.

One difference between the Americans and the British that stands out is our work, with the average American working harder and longer than his British counterpart, switching jobs more often, and more worried about job security. It’s called stress and it is just a theory for the moment but it is a theory that should open a discussion about health care delivery in the U.S. as well as a dialog on whether our desire for more money is begin paid for with less life.

If you have an opinion, post it to this blog found at


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