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Americans Less Healthy, But Outlive Brits 521

Posted by timothy
from the cross-cultural-croaking-comparison dept.
An anonymous reader writes with this intriguing snippet: "Older Americans are less healthy than their English counterparts, but they live as long or even longer than their English peers, according to a new study by researchers from the RAND Corporation and the Institute for Fiscal Studies in London. Researchers found that while Americans aged 55 to 64 have higher rates of chronic diseases than their peers in England, they died at about the same rate. And Americans age 65 and older — while still sicker than their English peers — had a lower death rate than similar people in England, according to findings published in the journal Demography."
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Americans Less Healthy, But Outlive Brits

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  • Well, duh (Score:5, Funny)

    by metrix007 (200091) on Saturday November 06, 2010 @05:41AM (#34146194)

    The UK is more depressing what with its annual 4 hours of sunshine and the best looking women maybe rating a 7. Who can forget the warm beer, bad food and lovable totalitarian government?

    I'm not kidding. You don't think all of that stuff can have a negative affect on a persons psyche, perhaps affecting their health? Especially the warm beer...that's especially depressing.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by rapiddescent (572442)

      one of my clients is a life assurance company - the actuaries are saying that the first British woman who will live to 120 years old has just retired this year. i.e. for her 40 years of work she'll have to fund 60 years of retirement. that's news that will be enough to kill anyone off.

    • Re:Well, duh (Score:5, Informative)

      by onion2k (203094) on Saturday November 06, 2010 @06:12AM (#34146306) Homepage

      It's called ale, and it's supposed to be served warm (room temperature, as opposed to chilled). It actually tastes of something. It has substance. That's why we like it. In fact, this reminds me of a joke.

      Why is American beer like sex in a canoe?
      Because it's fucking close to water.

      It's funny because it's true. ;)

      • by JordanL (886154)
        REAL American beer is done in microbrews.... like here in Portland, Oregon.
        • by hcpxvi (773888)
          REAL American beer is done in microbrews.... like here in Portland, Oregon.
          True, nowadays, and in big cities or nice trendy towns like Portland. When I lived in rural Mississippi in the late 1980s, you had a choice of Bud or Bud light. (Even in the so-called Irish bar. Honest! No Guinness in an Irish bar.) The "fscking close to water" joke dates back to that era, if not to an earlier one.
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            The "fscking close to water" joke dates back to that era, if not to an earlier one.

            Earlier. It was used in WW2. It may have been used still earlier.

            When it wasn't used was the 19th century, when Budweiser and such were made by immigrant Germans, and it was really pretty damn good. Enough so that it was winning international awards.

            Sad where it's gone since then - I blame Prohibition, myself.

            • Re:Well, duh (Score:5, Interesting)

              by TheRaven64 (641858) on Saturday November 06, 2010 @07:15AM (#34146514) Journal

              Sad where it's gone since then - I blame Prohibition, myself.

              Prohibition is the reason that Americans perceive that beer should be served very cold. Back then, people were glad of any beer that they could get, so speakeasys sold really cheap crap produced in someone's back room. Chilling it deadened the taste buds and removed the horrible yeasty taste. By the time it got back to room temperature, it was completely undrinkable.

              In contrast, a decent ale is still very nice at that temperature. There are some really good beers in the USA (I particularly like some of the amber ales, which are very hard to get on this side of the pond), but massive advertising by the crap beer companies have reinforced the notion that beer should be served at a temperature that prevents you from tasting it, so they're hard to find.

              • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                by at_slashdot (674436)

                I doubt that's the entire explanation, Americans like all their drinks cold, they serve water with ice even in the middle of winter.

        • by dangitman (862676)

          REAL American beer is done in microbrews.... like here in Portland, Oregon.

          That doesn't really compute. How are those microbreweries supplying the whole of the USA, which is quite a large country? I think if you look into the data, you'll find that the vast majority of American beer is supplied by the "macrobreweries" like Anheuser-Busch and Molson Coors. What makes them less authentically American than the microbreweries?

          • Neither company you mention is American owned. The largest American brewer is Sam Adams.

          • Re:Well, duh (Score:4, Informative)

            by Anne Thwacks (531696) on Saturday November 06, 2010 @07:03AM (#34146458)
            What makes them less authentically American

            They are not less authentically American, just less authentically beer

          • Real ale is fresh living beer that undergoes a natural second fermentation in the cask. Like any natural live product, the beer will mature age and ultimately go off. Real Ale must therefore be drunk within a strict timescale. Real ales requires proper handling on its way to the pub, and care within the pub to bring it to condition for serving. However, real ale can reach its full flavour potential, without chilling, filtration, pasteurisation and added gas.

            Keg Beer, mass produced, often pasteurised, dea

        • Off topic: I was, at one time, an advertising copywriter. I notice several shortcomings in the Helium Designs web site.
        • Re:Well, duh (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Gordonjcp (186804) on Saturday November 06, 2010 @07:09AM (#34146476) Homepage

          REAL American beer is done in microbrews.... like here in Portland, Oregon.
          ... and not served chilled. The whole point of chilling beer is so that it numbs your tastebuds so you can't taste how nasty it is when it's badly made.

          Budweiser's "Fresh Beer Tastes Better" adverts were pulled by the ASA in the UK, because fresh beer does not, in fact, taste better. It tastes like yeasty rat piss until it has had time to mature a bit.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by IHC Navistar (967161)
        What you guys call Guinness is what we call "Cold, stale coffee mixed with seltzer water".
    • Re:Well, duh (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 06, 2010 @06:30AM (#34146354)

      Am I the only one who read the article? Ah yes, this is Slashdot. So this article is written by finance people and someone who works for RAND which is funded partly by the health care industries in the US.

      So no fucking shit it finds that US healthcare industry provided healthcare is better than a socialist model.

      Or have I missed something?

      • Re:Well, duh (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Will.Woodhull (1038600) <wwoodhull@gmail.com> on Saturday November 06, 2010 @09:24AM (#34146994) Homepage Journal

        TFA is consistent with the observation that 90% of American health care dollars are spent during the last few months of the patient's life.

        If USA health care invested more money in early and preventive treatment, people might not live any longer, but they would be in better health until old age problems caught up with them. That is clear from TFA when viewed within the context of the differences between USA and UK health care delivery systems.

        But USA health care is profit oriented, and there is more profit to be made in selling cures and disease treatments than there is in preventing diseases. Not only does preventive health care lack as much opportunity for profit, it reduces the market for such money makers as AIDS drugs, cancer therapies, antihypertensive agents, and antidepressants.

        The USA needs a major reform of health care. Even if the recent legislation is put fully into effect, it won't go far enough; it will be band aid approach to broken bones. There needs to be a break-up of the current system. Prohibiting the sale of health insurance for profit would be a good place to start.

        • follow the money (Score:3, Interesting)

          by nido (102070)

          But USA health care is profit oriented, and there is more profit to be made in selling snake oil than there is in treating diseases.

          There, fixed that for you. Seriously. I talked to a guy with high blood pressure recently. his doctor wants to put him on drugs, but he's not so sure.

          I commented that well over 1/2 of the population doesn't get even the RDA of magnesium in their diet. high blood pressure is usually related to stress, and how can one relax if they don't have enough of the relaxation mineral in their diet?

          I did some more reading, and the "life extension" people (Pearson & Shaw) say that potassium bicarbonate [life-enhancement.com] can help wi

          • by IICV (652597) on Saturday November 06, 2010 @12:23PM (#34147862)

            If the stuff you're pushing worked the way you say it would, the doctor would be recommending it.

            However, as it turns out, the research on whether or not magnesium helps with high blood pressure is inconclusive; this [about.com] article seems to have a reasonable layman's summary of what's going on. Therefore, the doctor cannot in good conscience recommend that the guy take magnesium pills, as they may or may not work (for the same reason why doctors can't prescribe placebos, despite their occasional effectiveness).

            Furthermore, look at the "Should I take oral magnesium supplements" and "What are good dietary sources of magnesium" sections - dietary magnesium supplements just don't work, you need to get it as part of your food. What food contains magnesium? Healthy food. What part of the doctor's recommendation are you leaving out? A diet change. No doctor would just prescribe blood pressure pills without also including a dietary intervention, that's only treating the symptoms without treating the underlying problem. This is actually something alt-med people love to accuse doctors of, probably because everyone just hears "pills" but doesn't pay attention to the "and here's how you should improve your diet, and some exercises you can do" bit. Either you or your friend didn't pay attention to the part where the doctor recommended lifestyle changes, because he certainly did (and if he didn't, he is being remiss in his care).

            So why recommend blood pressure pills in the first place, if the real treatment is going to be a change in diet and exercise? Because high blood pressure is a danger now, while diet and exercise will cure the problem later (if at all - to be quite honest, few people manage to make permanent healthy lifestyle changes. It's really sad, but that's the way it is). Ideally, your friend would start taking the blood pressure pills immediately, then start in on changing his diet and getting more exercise and eventually wean himself off the pills once his blood pressure gets to a normal level.

            As for potassium bicarbonate, the Cigna page [cigna.com] on it says that you should tell your doctor if you have high blood pressure and intend to take it, as there may be side effects. The only study on its effects that I could find was this one [ahajournals.org], which had positive results but was little more than a pilot study (14 people). Further research is needed before a doctor can really recommend supplementation with potassium bicarbonate (especially when just eating more fruits and vegetables already has a significant effect, which is probably why there's been little research in this area - there's no need to recommend expensive supplements when the patient can just eat better).

            There is something I don't understand in your post, though: you say that taking these alternative supplements is good, because it deprives the pharmaceutical complex of years of income (despite the fact that ideally you'd stop taking the blood pressure pills at some point) - but as your alternative, you recommend taking magnesium and potassium bicarbonate supplements. Do those poof into existence from thin air? No, they're sold by the "supplemental" complex - and you're recommending giving them years of income for treating high blood pressure, despite (again) the fact that the real treatment lies in a lifestyle change. You're basically saying "don't buy stuff that we know works from those guys, buy stuff that may or may not work from these other guys".

            I wonder who is treating the symptoms here, and not addressing the causes?

        • Re:Well, duh (Score:5, Informative)

          by sjames (1099) on Saturday November 06, 2010 @10:59AM (#34147486) Homepage

          It also reflects a different culture. In the UK when an older person gets cancer or another terminal disease, they're more likely to opt for palliative care to maximize the quality of their remaining while in the U.S. they're more likely to opt for intensive treatment that adds time but subtracts quality of life. None of that reflects at all upon the quality or adequacy of the health care systems.

    • by eharvill (991859)

      Who can forget the warm beer, bad food and lovable totalitarian government?

      I never had a warm beer in the dozen or so pubs I visited while in London a couple years back. And if you don't like a good banger, then that's your problem. :-P

    • by Joce640k (829181)

      I thought the reason you chill beer is to kill the nasty taste....

    • by Gordonjcp (186804)

      Name one well-known American chef. How many well-known British chefs can you name?

      America has the worst food in the world, all bland greasy meat covered in cheap hot sauce.

  • by swordgeek (112599) on Saturday November 06, 2010 @05:46AM (#34146214) Journal

    It has been my experience that Americans hold onto life harder than almost anyone else on the planet. There is no saying "Well, that's enough then." There is no accepting the inevitable. No matter how sick, how weak, how miserable a person is, in the US it seems that it's still better than throwing in the towel.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by IrquiM (471313)
      I read somewhere that this has to do with religion... A religious person is more afraid of throwing in the towel than a non-religious person, as they are afraid of might be waiting for them in the afterlife.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by ultranova (717540)

      It has been my experience that Americans hold onto life harder than almost anyone else on the planet. There is no saying "Well, that's enough then." There is no accepting the inevitable. No matter how sick, how weak, how miserable a person is, in the US it seems that it's still better than throwing in the towel.

      I wonder if this has to do with the American Religious Right and the rather bleak picture they paint of the afterlife where the absolute best you can hope for is an eternity under a sadistic, totali

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by icebrain (944107)

        Or, we can look for an answer that doesn't paint most of us as backwards hyper-religious hicks... I know that (especially from the outside) it certainly seems like we are from all the news coverage and wacky stories, but most people here who are religious follow a gentler, kinder, more accepting version.

        The "religious right" is a fairly small minority, but a very vocal one with higher turnout numbers than average. Unfortunately, those of us who share [i]some[/i] views considered right wing (eg, my views on

    • I think they just spend more money on pills over the pond. Most Brits have an aversion to all things medical.

  • Even so! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Hitman_Frost (798840) on Saturday November 06, 2010 @05:49AM (#34146226)

    Despite all this clever wording, Americans do not outlive Brits in the vast majority of cases.

    USA - Male life expectancy 75.6 years, female 80.8 years.
    UK - Male life expectancy 77.2 years, female 81.6 years.

    Notice how one set of numbers are larger than the others.

    • by elucido (870205) *

      Despite all this clever wording, Americans do not outlive Brits in the vast majority of cases.

      USA - Male life expectancy 75.6 years, female 80.8 years.
      UK - Male life expectancy 77.2 years, female 81.6 years.

      Notice how one set of numbers are larger than the others.

      This tells you a lot about statistics. It can be fudged.

    • by bazorg (911295)
      You seem to be comparing UK (60M people) stats when TFA clearly is about England (50M).
    • If one is to assume that both TFA and the parent post are correct, then one must assume that either:

      A) England and the UK as a whole have substantially different life expectancies (unlikely),

      B) someone in the USA has a significantly higher chance of dying young than someone in England/UK (rather more likely)

      or

      C) There is a difference in how the two countries handle infant mortality statistics (no opinions on likelihood, though I have read that the USA classifies some things as "infant deaths" that so

    • by radio4fan (304271)

      Indeed.

      UK: Ranked 20th in list of life expectancy by country.
      US: Ranked 30th.

      And to imply that socialized medicine is the reason is disingenuous when you consider that Iceland ranks 3rd and has *no* private healthcare available (which is a very rare situation), and even Cuba beats the US (by one place).

      Source [un.org].

    • Re:Even so! (Score:4, Insightful)

      by TheRaven64 (641858) on Saturday November 06, 2010 @07:24AM (#34146544) Journal
      The study only compared people over the age of 55, meaning that if more people under the age of 55 die in the USA, then this will have no impact on their statistics. Given the life expectancy numbers, it seems that this is probably the case.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    How long old people still have to live heavily depends on medical treatment. Surprisingly (at first sight) bad healthcare can mean old people are more healthy. (It stops to be surpising if you consider that bad health care means only the healthy people live long enough to be old).

    Thus you can get numbers that in the USA looking at the right age, you can get much longer life expectancy if you are black and poor than if you are rich and white.

    Another nice paradox (numbers might not be totally accurate and mig

  • Politics (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Lord Byron II (671689) on Saturday November 06, 2010 @06:07AM (#34146288)

    I know some politicians will use a study like this to argue that single payer health care is a bad idea, but when you consider that this study looked at older citizens, who tend (in America) to be on Medicare (our single payer health care), it seems to suggest that that program isn't so bad after all.

    Of course, you have climate, pollution, diet, genetics, and a dozen different factors that you can't control for when you compare Americans and Brits. So studies like this one are probably pretty useless.

    It would be interesting if you could take a group of senior citizens and split them up three ways: no insurance, single payer (Medicare), and traditional health insurance. Then see who lives longest.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by hitmark (640295)

      It could even be that weaker genes and such get taken out before the comparison thresholds comes into play.

      I would love to see the death rates for younger people.

      And yes, climate could be a big issue. USA allows someone to stay within their nation while having a ski vacation in the rockies and a beach vacation in florida or california. How many elderly in USA ups and moves south once they hit retirement?

    • by jopsen (885607) <jopsen@gmail.com> on Saturday November 06, 2010 @06:44AM (#34146394) Homepage
      There're many other factors... Such as amount of money spend on health care... For instance the US spends more than twice as much on heath care per citizen as the UK (and the US doesn't even cover all of their citizen).
      That's according to OECD: http://tinyurl.com/cr9753 [tinyurl.com]
      • by h4rm0ny (722443) on Saturday November 06, 2010 @07:33AM (#34146574) Journal

        For instance the US spends more than twice as much on heath care per citizen as the UK

        An alternative way of putting that however, is that the health care costs twice as much per citizen. Factually, the two statements are equivalent, but consider the different implications.

        • by jopsen (885607)

          For instance the US spends more than twice as much on heath care per citizen as the UK

          An alternative way of putting that however, is that the health care costs twice as much per citizen. Factually, the two statements are equivalent, but consider the different implications.

          True :)

    • Re:Politics (Score:5, Informative)

      by damburger (981828) on Saturday November 06, 2010 @07:53AM (#34146636)

      Also bear in mind in the UK we now have a foaming-at-the-mouth radical neoliberal government, the type who says "Government is terrible! And when we get elected we are going to prove it!". They are intentionally gutting the NHS from the inside in order to make it look bad so they can move in after a few years and say "Socialised healthcare doesn't work" and sell the whole think off to their Eton/Oxbridge mates.

      Expect more of these lies in the future.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by gnasher719 (869701)

        Also bear in mind in the UK we now have a foaming-at-the-mouth radical neoliberal government, the type who says "Government is terrible! And when we get elected we are going to prove it!". They are intentionally gutting the NHS from the inside in order to make it look bad so they can move in after a few years and say "Socialised healthcare doesn't work" and sell the whole think off to their Eton/Oxbridge mates.

        I know someone working at the NHS who at some point had a manager who managed her and nobody else, who in turn had a manager who managed that manager and nobody else, and who in turn had a manager managing that manager and nobody else. So she was outnumbered by management three-to-one and was the only one doing any actual useful work. So I'd say there is quite a bit of cost saving possible without reducing the quality at all.

    • I know some politicians will use a study like this to argue that single payer health care is a bad idea,

      Clearly these deaths are due to the NHS death panels!

  • Not true actually (Score:3, Informative)

    by jamesh (87723) on Saturday November 06, 2010 @06:20AM (#34146330)

    The article misses an important detail - the Yanks actually dieing earlier than Brits, it's just that all the extra preservatives they consume keep them in a state of animated death for a few extra years.

    • by jopsen (885607)
      No, they're just factoring in 200 people who are frozen down and estimated to live 2k years... :)
      See wikipedia.org/wiki/Cryonics
  • I would look to all sorts of things for differences between the two locations. I would look at what types of people were sampled from both populations. For example, did the two samples include impoverished people as well as middle and upper class people? Does it account for various [sub-]species of humans ranging from varieties of white and black to asian, hispanic/native american? There are far too many differences for this study to simply compare the two locations and draw a conclusion. (Yes, I know

  • Misleading summary (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jcupitt65 (68879) on Saturday November 06, 2010 @06:48AM (#34146410)

    The summary is misleading. Brits, on average, outlive Americans.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_life_expectancy [wikipedia.org]

    This study compares the survival of people with similar diseases once they become ill.

  • Define "better" (Score:4, Insightful)

    by arbogasm (1846496) on Saturday November 06, 2010 @06:59AM (#34146440)
    In the US, physicians tend to emphasize curative (disease-fighting, life-extending) care. Many American physicians view the death of a patient as a personal defeat. Thanks in large part to numerous advances in medical technology over the past half-century, physicians (worldwide, but especially in the US) have become very good at "keeping people alive." That said, keeping someone alive often comes with a price - namely, the patient's quality of life. Relative to their English colleagues, American physicians are generally more resistant to moving patients from curative care to palliative care - care that focuses solely on reducing/eliminating symptoms. It comes as no surprise, then, that patients with chronic disease are living longer in the US. Saying that longer lives implies "better" healthcare is naively simplistic at best. That conclusion is indicative of a fundamental misunderstanding of the goals of medical care. The goals of quality health care demand a balance between curative and palliative care. On one extreme end of the curative-palliative-care spectrum you have the physicians (think: Kevorkian) who want to focus solely on reducing symptoms - even to the point of death. On the other extreme of the spectrum you have those who want to extend life at any cost (think: Terri Shiavo case). On this axis, American doctors lean somewhat to the "right" of most doctors worldwide. The best doctors in any country are straddling the line between "excessive" and "inadequate" care. That being said, conflating palliative care with "giving up" on the patient is an all too common issue among physicians and patients. Though I have full confidence in this research team's statistical results, they (Smith, in particular) seem to be unfamiliar with how heavily differences in culture affect healthcare, especially among patients with chronic diseases.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jgreco (1542031)

      I've used this sort of argument in the past to highlight your statement "keeping someone alive often comes with a price" as well; it's also one of the reasons that healthcare costs in the United States continue to increase.

      Fifty years ago, there were a whole bunch of bad things that happened to older people that signaled they were nearing the end, and that their remaining time was limited. Many of these things have become treatable and correctable, extending life for many years, but often at a cost, not ju

      • by damburger (981828)
        This is why NICE (the real life 'death panels') used a "quality adjusted life year" metric for evaluating which drugs are to be available on the NHS - not because they want old people to die quicker of course, but because they've got a single pool of money to use for drugs and ones that add only a few miserable weeks to a sick persons life have an opportunity cost in terms of the drugs that could help other people live longer and/or happier.
  • Effects of the war (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    65 years is an interesting age, namely thats how many years ago the war ended. While the war wasn't as hard on England as it was most of the rest of Europe there was significant shortages and rationing when compared to the youth of the US during that same time period. There are a lot of studies nowadays that basically say that malnourishment during childhood can have negative effects all throughout a persons life. I wonder if the war has anything to do with the people over 65 dying at higher rates than t
  • The Brits are just better at offing people by committee.

  • Wow, it sucks to be in the US! With our old people being less healthy but still living longer, that's a recipe not only for a lot of personal misery, but also for uncontrollable health care spending. The optimal thing economically would be for old people to be healthy until their sudden death. It seems that in the US, just the opposite happens: Sick people are being kept from dying by (I assume) lots of expensive technology. Not only does that not sound like a future I want for myself. It might also help ex
  • I'm not saying americans are more healthy (I find that really hard to believe), but is it possible they appear less healthy, simply because they are sent for more procedures because they are the ones paying for them?

  • If you RTFA, what it seems to be saying is that rates of chronic illness are lower in England, but rates of recovery are higher in the USA. The example given is diabetes. Now, diabetes can either be entirely genetic, or partially brought on by lifestyle. Lifestyle is a lot easier to fix than a genetic disorder. If the majority of the extra cases are lifestyle driven, then the study says nothing about the relative qualities of the countries' health systems. The article seems to skirt very carefully around th
  • Poor ME (Score:3, Funny)

    by b4upoo (166390) on Saturday November 06, 2010 @10:12AM (#34147246)

    Here I am, deluded and home alone in the dark. I've never considered the death rate before. Too me the death rate for all mortals is 100%. Apparently I am misinformed.

  • by feepness (543479) on Saturday November 06, 2010 @11:38AM (#34147666) Homepage
    Is that the same people who will cry that we should question climate change science will rush to accept this study on the face of it.

    Of course, that works in reverse. The same people who say we should "trust the experts because we don't have degrees in this", will be first in line to question it.

    Ahhh, partisan hypocrisy, may you never die.

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