Americans sicker, fatter, smokier than Europeans

Aging adults in America are more likely to be diagnosed with and treated for chronic diseases than their European counterparts, a new study says.

Researchers are linking the phenomenon to greater rates of obesity and smoking addictions among Americans, and note it leads to significantly higher health care spending.

The study, published in Health Affairs online by researchers from Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health, indicates that older adults in America are more likely to be diagnosed with costly chronic diseases often correlated with obesity and smoking, such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease and chronic lung disease.

The research team analyzed 2004 data from adults age 50 and older living in the U.S. and 10 different European countries.

American adults are twice as likely to be obese, the study says, with more than one in three Baby Boomers in the U.S. classified as having clinically excessive body weight, compared to only of 17.1 percent of Europeans over age 50.

Additionally, more than half of Americans in this age group are current or former smokers, compared to only 43 percent of their Europeans counterparts.

“We expected to see differences between disease prevalence in the United States and Europe, but the extent of the differences is surprising,” head researcher Kenneth Thorpe, chair of Emory’s Department of Health Policy and Management, says in a statement.

“It is possible that we spend more on health care because we are, indeed, less healthy,” he says, suggesting the U.S. could save $100 billion to $150 billion a year, or 12.7 percent to 18.7 percent of its total health care budget for adults 50 and older, if American disease rates were more in line with Europe’s.

Americans spend more on health care than any European country, the study says, noting U.S. per-capita spending in 2004 totaled $6,102, more than twice that of either Germany or the Netherlands.

Thorpe’s team also suggests, however, that in some cases the gap in incidence of chronic illness and its treatment may simply reflect more aggressive diagnosis and pretreatment of these diseases in the U.S.

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