The United States spends twice as much per capita each year on health care as Britain but sees higher rates of nearly every chronic disease, even among children, said a study out Wednesday.
Despite the cash outflow, Americans over 50 are in worse health than Britons and have shorter life expectancies. The trend also does not appear to be related to the fact that people in the United States tend to be fatter than the British.
"Our findings suggest that body weight is not the driving force behind the observed health differentials between the United States and England and that, if weight plays a role, it is a complicated one," said the study in the American Journal of Epidemiology.
In fact, previous studies have not found any clear evidence for the difference when looking at health insurance, behaviors, obesity, socioeconomic status or race and ethnicity, leaving researchers puzzled as to why such variations could exist among otherwise similar populations.
A possibility for further investigation could be how residents of the two countries use health care resources differently.
"Despite the greater use of health care technology in the United States, Americans receive less preventive health care than their English counterparts. They have fewer physician consultations per year," it said.
The study compared data for people aged 0 to 80 from nationally representative health surveys in Britain (Health Survey for England 2003-2006) and the United States (National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 1999 to 2006).
"Overall, the United States has higher rates of chronic conditions and markers of disease than England. Differences between the two countries are statistically significant for every condition except hypertension," it said.
Chronic conditions included diabetes, asthma, heart attack, stroke, high cholesterol and high C-reactive protein, which can be a general indicator of inflammation and disease.
The US survey reported fewer cigarette smokers and heavy alcohol drinkers than in Britain, but the study cautioned that "respondents tend to underreport substance use in surveys... (so) the rates of smoking and heavy drinking should be interpreted with caution."