This article made the rounds of the blogosphere yesterday, but it’s still fresh news: a new study shows that, even after controlling for factors such as income and race, residents of Great Britain are far, far healthier than their American counterparts.
In both countries, rich people tend to be healthier than poor people. But the health of Britain’s poor was just about the same as America’s rich.
Of course, nobody can pinpoint a single cause for the better health on the other side of the Atlantic. Health care access—universal in the UK, spotty here—plays some role in overall trends. But it can’t explain the fact that wealthy Americans who enjoy good health care coverage are still sicker than wealthy Brits. In explaining the disparities, other factors, such lower physical activity and higher economic stress in the US, may loom larger than health care.
What surprises me, though, is that this is considered surprising news. I mean, it’s been exhaustively documented that, despite the nation’s wealth, the US is the least heatlhy industrial democracy in the world (with the possible exception of Denmark). US life expectancy ranks about 28th in the world, behind such economic powerhouses as Cyprus and Costa Rica, and neck-and-neck with Cuba. Still, the news of the wide health disparity somehow seems to have caught people off-guard:
“I knew we were less healthy, but I didn’t know the magnitude of the disparities,” said Gerard Anderson, an expert in chronic disease and international health at Johns Hopkins University who had no role in the research.
Hm. Seems like American’s dismal health record is a fact that’s lying out there in plain sight—but that even health experts aren’t focused on yet.