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50+: Live Better, Longer

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Middle-Age Health Better in Britain

In Late Middle Age, Many Health Problems More Common in U.S.
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

May 2, 2006 -- The U.S. lags behind the U.K. in middle-age health, according to a new study.

Researcher James Banks, PhD, works at University College London and London's Institute for Fiscal Studies. With colleagues, he pored over health surveys from both sides of the Atlantic for people aged 55-64, which Banks' team calls "late middle age."

The bottom line: U.K. residents in late middle age reported fewer cases of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, heart attack, stroke, chronic lung diseases, or cancer than those in the U.S.

In both countries, worse health was generally reported for people with low incomes and lower education levels, the researchers also found.

The study appears in The Journal of the American Medical Association.

Lagging Behind Britain

Banks' study focuses only on whites, since health inequalities have often been noted in U.S. minorities.

In 2002, participants were asked if a doctor had ever told them that they had diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, heart attack, stroke, chronic lung diseases, or cancer.

All of those problems were more commonly reported in U.S. participants in late middle age, compared with those in the U.K.

Diabetes was twice as common among U.S. residents in late middle age as residents of the U.K. High blood pressure "is about 10 percentage points more common and all heart disease six percentage points higher in the United States," write Banks and colleagues.

Worse Health With Lower Status

Except for cancer, all of the health conditions covered in the study were more common -- in both countries -- for people with low incomes and those with lower levels of formal education.

"That is, disease prevalence is reported to be much higher among those at the bottom of either the education or income ladder compared with those at the top of each classification," write Banks and colleagues.

Of course, high incomes and lots of years in school don't guarantee good health, or vice versa.

When it came to heart disease and diabetes rates, U.S. residents in late middle age with the most education and highest incomes equaled those in the lowest education and income levels of their British peers.

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