Canadians Have More Years of 'Perfect Health' Over Americans

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We may “share a common border and enjoy a very similar standard of living”, but life expectancy in Canada is higher than that of the United States, according to new research published in the journal Population Health Metrics. The data suggests that America’s lack of universal health care and prevalence of poverty are to blame.

David Feeny of the Kaiser Permanente Center of Health Research in Oregon worked with a team of researchers to study data from the Joint Canada/United States Survey of Health 2002/03. They found that a 19-year-old Canadian can expect 2.7 more years of “perfect health” than an American of the same age.

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The data came from random-digit telephone surveys that asked questions regarding health status, lifestyle, health care utilization and other determinants of health. It was conducted by the US National Center for Health Statistics and Statistics Canada. Using the raw data from 8,688 interviews, the researchers computed life expectancy, health-related quality of life, and health-adjusted life expectancy for both Canada and the US.

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Canada offers residents a universal “prenatal to grave” health service, free at the point of care. While the healthcare reform law is being sorted out, American’s have fewer choices: insurance through employment, the purchase of a private (but costlier) individual health plan, or, if qualified, access to government insurance plans (i.e. Medicaid and Medicare).

Another factor is the lower infant mortality rate. Per 1,000 live births, Canada had 5.4 infant deaths, compared to 7.0 in the US.

Poverty rate, defined as having an income 50% below the median, in Canada is also lower – 12.0% versus 17% in the US. The older one gets, the bigger the difference. Among the elderly, Canadians had a 6% poverty rate versus 23% of older Americans.

The study did have limitations. For one, the response rates to the telephone survey were low – 50.2% in the US and 65.5% in Canada. Also, the study is just a snapshot in time, so it is not entirely possible to figure out the exact cause of the differences in life expectancy. And finally, only white Canadians and Americans were interviewed in an attempt “to account for the impact of slavery and racial disparities on health.”

Feeny said that the study does suggest to the researchers that recent healthcare reform will slowly improve matters. In addition, measures to reduce poverty may also be beneficial to extending the lives of many Americans.

Source reference:
Feeny D, et al "Comparing population health in the United States and Canada" Population Health Metrics 2010.

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