View Full Version : Is being an American bad for your health?

May 6th, 2006, 12:22 PM
Our Sick Society

Published: May 5, 2006

Is being an American bad for your health? That's the apparent implication of a study just published in The Journal of the American Medical Association.

It's not news that something is very wrong with the state of America's health. International comparisons show that the United States has achieved a sort of inverse miracle: we spend much more per person on health care than any other nation, yet we have lower life expectancy and higher infant mortality than Canada, Japan and most of Europe.

But it isn't clear exactly what causes this stunningly poor performance. How much of America's poor health is the result of our failure, unique among wealthy nations, to guarantee health insurance to all? How much is the result of racial and class divisions? How much is the result of other aspects of the American way of life?

The new study, "Disease and Disadvantage in the United States and in England," doesn't resolve all of these questions. Yet it offers strong evidence that there's something about American society that makes us sicker than we should be.

The authors of the study compared the prevalence of such diseases as diabetes and hypertension in Americans 55 to 64 years old with the prevalence of the same diseases in a comparable group in England. Comparing us with the English isn't a choice designed to highlight American problems: Britain spends only about 40 percent as much per person on health care as the United States, and its health care system is generally considered inferior to those of neighboring countries, especially France. Moreover, England isn't noted either for healthy eating or for a healthy lifestyle.

Nonetheless, the study concludes that "Americans are much sicker than the English." For example, middle-age Americans are twice as likely to suffer from diabetes as their English counterparts. That's a striking finding in itself.

What's even more striking is that being American seems to damage your health regardless of your race and social class.

That's not to say that class is irrelevant. (The researchers excluded racial effects by restricting the study to non-Hispanic whites.) In fact, there's a strong correlation within each country between wealth and health. But Americans are so much sicker that the richest third of Americans is in worse health than the poorest third of the English.

So what's going on? Lack of health insurance is surely a factor in the poor health of lower-income Americans, who are often uninsured, while everyone in England receives health care from the government. But almost all upper-income Americans have insurance.

What about bad habits, which the study calls "behavioral risk factors"? The stereotypes are true: the English are much more likely to be heavy drinkers, and Americans much more likely to be obese. But a statistical analysis suggests that bad habits are only a fraction of the story.

In the end, the study's authors seem baffled by the poor health of even relatively well-off Americans. But let me suggest a couple of possible explanations.

One is that having health insurance doesn't ensure good health care. For example, a New York Times report on diabetes pointed out that insurance companies are generally unwilling to pay for care that might head off the disease, even though they are willing to pay for the extreme measures, like amputations, that become necessary when prevention fails. It's possible that Britain's National Health Service, in spite of its limited budget, actually provides better all-around medical care than our system because it takes a broader, longer-term view than private insurance companies.

The other possibility is that Americans work too hard and experience too much stress. Full-time American workers work, on average, about 46 weeks per year; full-time British, French and German workers work only 41 weeks a year. I've pointed out in the past that our workaholic economy is actually more destructive of the "family values" we claim to honor than the European economies in which regulations and union power have led to shorter working hours.

Maybe overwork, together with the stress of living in an economy with a minimal social safety net, damages our health as well as our families. These are just suggestions. What we know for sure is that although the American way of life may be, as Ari Fleischer famously proclaimed back in 2001, "a blessed one," there's something about that way of life that is seriously bad for our health.

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

May 6th, 2006, 05:33 PM
Man, just being alive is bad for your health! I don't care where you live...

May 6th, 2006, 11:38 PM
Here are more interesting news...

Study: Obesity not in eye of beholder


Monday, April 10, 2006

CHARLOTTE, North Carolina (AP) -- Obese people have a blind spot when it comes to their own weight problem, according to a study that showed only 15 percent of people in that category view themselves as obese.

Such a lack of self-awareness can be deadly.

"If somebody doesn't perceive themselves to be obese, they are most likely not going to pay attention to any public health information about the consequences of obesity," said Kim Truesdale, a nutrition researcher at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Among those consequences are heightened risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and arthritis.

The study of 104 adults, ages 45 to 64, showed that only 15 percent of people who fit the body type for obese correctly classified themselves that way.

In contrast, 71 percent of normal-weight people and 73 percent of people classified as overweight were accurate in their self-assessments.

"I think part of the disconnect is just the overall image people have when you say 'obesity,"' said Truesdale, who presented her findings recently at conference in San Francisco. "They see someone who's 400 pounds, maybe morbidly obese. They don't think about the person who's 5-10 and you weigh 208, 209 pounds and you are technically obese. You can probably think of a lot of men who are 5-10 and over 200 pounds."

A 5-foot-10-inch adult -- both male and female -- is overweight at 174 pounds and obese at 209, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

John Cawley, a researcher at Cornell University who has studied body image, questioned the study's reliance on body-mass index as a measure of obesity. He said many researchers view BMI -- a ratio of a person's weight and height -- as being of limited use.

"BMI does not take into account body composition -- weightlifters and other athletes may be classified as clinically obese because their weight is high even though they have almost no fat," Cawley said.

On a Web page that discusses BMI, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention makes a similar point, giving the example of a 6-foot-3 man who weighs 220. A BMI ratio of 27.5 defines that man as overweight when in reality he could be anything from a musclebound bodybuilder to a schlumpy couch potato.

"BMI is only one piece of a person's health profile," the CDC notes.

Unfortunately, as many experts note, most Americans are not overweight because of an excess of muscle. And more than two-thirds of the country is fat.

The CDC's latest survey reported 71 percent of men are overweight and 31 percent are obese. For women, it's 62 percent overweight and 33 percent obese.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press.

May 6th, 2006, 11:38 PM
Eleven a key age for obese children


Friday, May 5, 2006

LONDON, England (Reuters) -- Children who are overweight or obese by the age of 11 are likely to carry their excess weight into adulthood and to suffer from related health problems, researchers said on Friday.

A study by scientists at University College London who tracked nearly 6,000 children in Britain over five years showed about a quarter had a weight problem when they entered secondary school.

"Children who joined the study at age 11 and were already plump did not slim down at all over the five years of follow-up," said team head Professor Jane Wardle.

The research, published online by the British Medical Journal, suggests that by the age of 11 a tendency to be overweight or obese is already set.

"It looked like obesity at 11 is already persistent obesity, so these things are being set earlier than we had previously thought," she told Reuters.

Although the findings related to British children, Wardle said there is no reason to suspect that the same phenomenon would not been seen in other countries.

"I think of it as being part of the whole obesity epidemic. What is happening is that persistent obesity is starting earlier and earlier," she added.

Health experts expect child obesity rates to soar in most parts of the world by the end of the decade. In Europe the number could reach 26 million, according to the International Obesity TaskForce (IOTF).

Overweight children face an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, raised cholesterol levels and cancer as they grow older.

Wardle and her team said 29 percent of girls were overweight or obese, which was more than in boys. It rose to 38 percent among black girls but fell to 20 percent for Asian females.

There was little difference in weight in boys of different ethnic origins but 31 percent of students from a deprived socio-economic background had a weight problem, according to the research.

Wardle said the gender and ethnic association with excess weight was significant and requires further research.

Changes in diet, less exercise and too much time spent in front of television and computer screens have been blamed for the obesity rise.

North America, Europe and parts of the Western Pacific have the highest prevalence of overweight children.

Wardle said the findings of the study, which was funded by the charity Cancer Research UK, highlight the need for early intervention to prevent childhood and adult obesity.

"I think society as a whole needs to take childhood obesity much more seriously," she added.

Copyright 2006 Reuters.

May 7th, 2006, 12:10 AM
Well I take near perfect care of myself, so I dont have anything to worry about.

May 7th, 2006, 10:15 AM
Ahhh, youth ^^ ;)

May 7th, 2006, 10:17 AM
Or dementia

May 8th, 2006, 09:42 AM
Or Thighmaster.

May 8th, 2006, 07:40 PM
Or Thighmaster.

Do those things really work?!

I've got a few pounds to lose, a few packs of cigs to stop smoking each week, and a lot less burgers and fries to pig on,..but other than that I am doing just fine!