Middle-Age Health Better in Britain
In Late Middle Age, Many Health Problems More Common in U.S.
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
blood pressure, heart
disease, heart attack, stroke, chronic lung
diseases, or cancer than those in the
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
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
People don't always accurately report their health status. So the
researchers looked at objective data including blood pressure readings, a check
of HDL "good" cholesterol, and HbA1c (which shows blood sugar control
for the past few months).
Other tests measured C-reactive protein (a marker of inflammation that could
be elevated in a number of health conditions) and fibrinogen. Fibrinogen is a
clotting substance in the blood; elevated levels may indicate heart risks.
These two tests usually are not part of routine checkups.
Those test results supported the self-reported data, the study shows.
"It's not just a difference in how people characterize their own health.
The biological measures confirm there is a difference," researcher James
Smith, PhD, says in a news release. Smith, who worked on Banks' study, is on
staff at the RAND Corporation in Santa Monica, Calif.